The Red Sox have a great amount of starting pitching depth in the upper minors, particularly with top prospects Henry Owens and Eduardo Rodriguez on the cusp of the major leagues. When naming the top prospects in Boston’s organization, though, many are slow to mention Brian Johnson among the top arms; however, after his incredible 2014 season, he absolutely deserves to be in that conversation.
Taken as a first-round pick from the University of Florida, Johnson impressed scouts not through his raw stuff, but rather through excellent command and an advanced feel for pitching. After signing with the Red Sox, Johnson’s first season in professional baseball got off to a rocky start as he pitched just four games for the Low-A Lowell Spinners before being hit in the face with a line drive at the annual “Futures at Fenway” game and missing the remainder of the season.
However, Johnson came back with a vengeance in 2013 and turned in an excellent season, posting a combined 2.54 ERA, 8.9 K/9, and 3.7 BB/9 in 19 starts, primarily spent in Single-A Greenville, with a couple of games in the Gulf Coast League and with the High-A Salem Red Sox. Johnson was certainly good, but it’s expected that a high draft pick out of a top baseball university will dominate the lower minors, so his performance didn’t turn any heads.
His 2014 season was a different story, though.
Johnson made five starts in Salem before earning a promotion to Double-A Portland, where he proceeded to go on an incredible run for the Sea Dogs. In 20 starts with Portland, Johnson posted a stingy 1.75 ERA to go with a 7.6 K/9 and impressive 2.4 BB/9 and allowing a remarkable 5.9 hits per nine innings.
Now, it’s unreasonable to expect Johnson to pitch like one of the better arms in baseball. However, he should be able to carve himself a nice niche as a reliable back-of-the-rotation arm and pitchers like that certainly have value.
Entering his age 24 season, Johnson should start the 2015 season in Triple-A Pawtucket, just one step away from a Boston team in need of a rotation upgrade. He’ll be competing with Owens and Rodriguez, who also should spend the majority of next season in Pawtucket, for stints with the major league team. If Johnson can continue to dominate the minors at his current rate, he should find himself in Boston by the end of the season, though, where he could make an immediate impact in the big leagues.