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March 6, 2009 at 11:41 AM

2009 Prospect Previews: Kris Johnson and Che-Hsuan Lin

The 11th installment of the Prospect Previews series takes a look at a starting pitcher working on sharpening his game in the advanced levels of the organization, and an exciting centerfielder looking to take the next step in his development.

Kris Johnson

Position: Starting Pitcher
2008 Team: Portland Sea Dogs
2009 Projected Team: Portland Sea Dogs

Strengths: Johnson’s fastball and change-up are the two best pitches in his arsenal right now. Working in the low 90’s, his fastball has good tailing movement, making him effective against right-handed batters, and he has shown improving command of the pitch. Johnson will turn his fastball over to induce ground balls, while keeping hitters off-balance with his above average change-up. He has had a ground ball to fly ball ratio of about 50% throughout his career in the Red Sox organization. Johnson uses his change-up to keep hitters out in front, and he will turn to it with two strikes to finish batters off. His arm action on the pitch makes it very deceptive on its approach to home plate. Smooth and fluid, Johnson’s delivery has very little wasted motion or jerky movements. 2008 was a good year of development for him, one that saw him fare well against advanced hitters in his first experience in AA. He was able to keep the ball in the ballpark and limit a lot of damage against him. Long term projections for Johnson originally pointed towards working out of the bullpen due to his tendency to struggle the second time through a batting order, but that improved for him in 2008. Johnson brought an improved sense of game preparation and more consistency in battling through lineups multiple turns through the batting order last season.

Development Needs: Johnson underwent Tommy John surgery in 2005 and made a quicker-than-usual return to the mound. Possessing a better-than-average curveball prior to the injury, he has not been able to get the same snap and hard break on the pitch since returning to the mound. Once his strength, the pitch now lags behind his other offerings in terms of being a consistently effective out pitch in his arsenal. The pitch has become a bit slurvy, but Johnson could still get the feel back. With just average control, he tends to walk a few too many batters and can get wild on occasions. But Johnson has been improving his consistency with his release point and has spent his first season or so within the Red Sox system getting the feel back for all of his pitches. He tends to struggle working out of jams and could stand to improve his concentration in those situations. Not an overpowering pitcher, Johnson relies on pitching to contact and keeping hitters off balance to be effective.

2009 Outlook: Johnson should start the season in the starting rotation for the Portland Sea Dogs. Look for him to continue to display the confidence in his health that made its way back in 2008. One of the main things to watch for with him is whether or not he can regain the feel for his curveball and have that pitch return to form. Improvement on this pitch would significantly enhance his arsenal and give him another potential out pitch deeper into the count. Johnson should continue to have success in AA, and look for the trend of improving command to continue this upcoming season. Another key area of development for Johnson in 2009 will be how well he can maintain his stuff through his outings and how much better he works out of jams. These areas saw improvement this past season, and more improvement in 2009 will be a very positive sign. With a strong start to the season and development in the mentioned areas, Johnson could see himself move further up the Red Sox’ pitching depth chart.

Che-Hsuan Lin

Position: Centerfield
2008 Team: Greenville Drive
2009 Projected Team: Salem Red Sox

Strengths: A fantastic athlete, Lin takes advantage of strong, quick wrists to whip the bat head through the hitting zone. His compact stroke generates gap power. Lin covers the plate well and will hit to all fields, taking what is given to him from pitchers. He’s been able to adjust to the Red Sox philosophy of a patient approach at the plate and work some walks as well. Possessing elite speed, Lin is a threat to steal every time he reaches base and has shown good ability to read pitchers, along with knowing the right opportunities to run. His speed also puts a lot of pressure on opposing defenses and disrupts the rhythm of pitchers when he is on base. A fluid defensive centerfielder, Lin has plus range in the field and gracefully tracks down fly balls. In addition to getting good jumps on the ball, his arm strength and accuracy are both well above average. Lin has the defensive tools to play a very solid centerfield in the major leagues, showing a lot of polish to this point in his career. Signed as an international free agent in 2007, scouts saw Lin as a supplemental first round pick had he been eligible for the draft that year. Lin projects as a table setter at the top of the lineup who will steal his fair share of bases and play excellent defense.

Development Needs: Lin’s contact rates have been a bit below par in his first couple of seasons in the Red Sox organization. A lot of this is tied to his struggles with breaking pitches and his raw pitch recognition, as he can guess a bit and get fooled on off-speed pitches down and away from him. With more experience seeing professional pitching, he should improve on his pitch recognition and becomes more effective facing breaking pitches. Utilizing a leg kick as a timing step, he can sometimes lose his rhythm, causing him to be off-balance at the plate and lunge at pitches. Lin could stand to drive the ball more, and his power is average at best right now. While he projects as a leadoff batter, he can definitely become more of a threat at the plate by driving through balls and increasing the rate at which he produces hard contact. At times, it can appear as if he is feeling his way at the plate rather than attacking pitches and picking out the ones he can drive. However, Lin was on the young side for the SAL last season and was able to hold his own while making some nice developmental strides, including cutting down some on his strikeouts.

2009 Outlook: Lin is currently playing with Taiwan in the WBC and will report to camp once he is finished playing for his country. He should man one of the outfield spots for the Salem Red Sox, spending the majority of his time in centerfield and at the top of the lineup. Look for Lin to continue to make a difference with his speed and to play a very solid outfield, covering a lot of ground and showing off his elite arm when runners challenge him. One of the main things to watch for with Lin is how much improvement he makes on his pitch recognition in 2009. Improvement in this area will be a positive sign for him and should help with his contact rates. Lin should show some gap power at this level, but there may not be much extra-base power in his game just yet. Another thing to watch for is how well Lin starts to drive the ball. An improvement here would boost his extra base hit totals and make him more of a threat when pitchers make mistakes. Lin will be an interesting prospect to watch in 2009, and he is one of many high-ceiling players who could start to round out their skills with the polish needed to have success at higher levels this season.