Sometimes it is better to have slightly less expected of you. When all eyes are on you, the pressure to perform can make a player try too hard instead of doing the job and winning games. In a sense, Boston Red Sox AA starting pitcher 2012 first rounder Brian Johnson benefits somewhat from sliding slightly under the radar. Johnson is rarely tabbed as the best prospect in the Red Sox organization. That distinction typically belongs to Henry Owens the six foot six inch left hander who dominated AA enough over the last two seasons to earn a promotion to AAA in the last month of the season where he punched out 44 batters in just 38 innings.
Johnson is a left hander pitcher who throws from a three quarters arm slot. The word that scouts have made up for a pitcher who gets people out without overwhelming stuff is “pitchability”. The term says the reason Johnson has been so effective over his professional career (2.23 ERA, 1.017 WHIP over 234.1 innings) is his ability to make pitches at any time. He is by no means a junkballer, possessing the ability to dial up his velocity to 94 mph for critical pitches, but he has four pitches at his disposal. Generally those are fastball, change-up, slider and curveball. Johnson can change speeds enough to keep hitters off balance, able at times to throw a cutter in the 87-89 mph range early in the count to get ahead of the batter. His slider needs to be developed to be more effective on left handed batters. Johnson’s big frame, filled out to six foot three, 235 pounds projects to a middle to late rotation starter.
While Owens started his career directly out of high school, Johnson took the college route. Though Johnson was twice baseball player of the year in Florida in high school (in 2008 and 2009), he was not drafted until the Los Angeles Dodgers selected him in the 27th round in 2009. Johnson turned the Dodgers down, accepting a scholarship to the University of Florida. In 2010, Johnson was the youngest player on Team USA, but pitched like a veteran posting a 0.63 ERA over 14.1 innings, striking out 17. Future Red Sox teammates Noe Ramirez (18 saves, 2.14 ERA at AA in 2014), Matt Barnes and Jackie Bradley Jr. were also on the team. The team lost in the finals of the World University Baseball Championship to Cuba (featuring a 25 year old Yoenis Cespedes) on a walk-off grand slam in the 10th inning.
Not only did Johnson succeed on the mound, he was also First Team DH for the Southeastern Conference (SEC) for 2011. Johnson also secured the John Olerud award in 2012, honoring the best two-way player on the college level, speaking to his athleticism despite his large frame.
Though Johnson has had great success as a professional, punctuated by last year’s tremendous campaign at AA (1.75 ERA, 0.93 WHIP over 20 starts covering 118 innings), he needs to show something at next year’s eventual promotion to AAA Pawtucket. Johnson will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft next December if not put on the 40 man roster. If Johnson enjoys more success at Pawtucket, will he be in the majors, or will he be a trade piece for a more pressing Red Sox need?
Feel free to leave a comment about Johnson and Owens and stay tuned to BoSoxInjection for continuing coverage of the Red Sox prospects as we get ready for Spring Training.