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March 27, 2013 at 6:45 AM

2013 Prospect Previews: Brian Johnson and Deven Marrero

Position: Pitcher
2012 Team: Lowell Spinners
2013 Projected Team: Greenville Drive
Opening Day Age: 22

Strengths: Johnson’s arsenal is presently on the advanced side and shows a high level of polish. The 22-year-old has a strong overall feel for pitching. The left-hander is loose when delivering his 89-93 mph fastball, and can touch up to 94 mph on occasion. Johnson knows how to finish his delivery, which enables him to command the heater to both sides of the plate and hit his spots. The offering will show both downward finish and arm-side run in the lower tier of the strike zone. Johnson is more than capable of pounding the zone consistently in the right areas with his fastball. The lefty also mixes a curveball and changeup into sequences. Operating 73-79 mph, the curve is currently Johnson’s best secondary pitch. It shows solid depth, with the ability to be thrown for a strike or buried out of the zone. It should round into a solid-average offering at his disposal with more repetition throwing it. The 84-86 mph change is more of a contact inducing pitch rather than a bat-missing one and grades as average, but Johnson can command it. Overall, the lefty has the stuff to continue on the starting path up the levels of the organization and project as a major league starter.

Development Needs: While Johnson has the body to handle the rigors of starting as a professional, he will need to maintain his physical fitness into his mid-to-late twenties. This will be important for him in order to stay loose and fluid with his delivery. Carrying additional weight will likely restrict him. Johnson’s stuff also isn’t likely to experience large growth within the professional ranks like younger pitchers. His development path will focus on the honing and sharpening aspects, with things centering on fine tuning his level of consistency. Johnson will need to focus on working down in the strike zone with his fastball, especially as he graduates into the upper minors. The pitch is hittable when above the middle of the thighs and doesn’t project as a big bat-missing pitch. Given the nature of his changeup, the continued polishing of the curve is important for Johnson to have an offering that can limit the amount of contact-against. There will be a lot of pressure on his command to be perfect otherwise.

2013 Outlook: Johnson’s 2012 season ended shortly after signing when he took a line drive off the face in his fourth start and suffered facial fractures. Fortunately for the lefty, surgery was not required and he was able to begin rehabbing relatively quickly. Johnson has been a full participant in spring training. Since the 22-year-old lost some time to ramp up as a professional last summer, an assignment to start the season in A-Ball sounds likely to ease him into full-season baseball and also allow him to get comfortable on the mound again in a more controlled environment. The stuff is certainly polished enough for a more advanced placement and I see the pitcher settling into High A before the season ends. This year should focus on extending Johnson’s workload and stretching him out as a starting pitcher. I feel his arsenal won’t be fully tested until he reaches Double-A, but he needs the time in the low minors to build his innings base and go through the repetition of working every fifth day in a professional rotation. The work is also important for ramping him up into facing more advanced competition. The year should serve as a spring board for the lefty to begin cutting his teeth in Double-A in 2014.

Position: Shortstop
2012 Team: Lowell Spinners
2013 Projected Team: Salem Red Sox 
Opening Day Age: 22

Strengths: Marrero’s athleticism and instincts carry him in the field. The shortstop shows the natural tools to profile as a plus defender as he continues to learn the professional game. Marrero is very fluid with his actions at short, flashing a soft glove, a strong first step, and the type of agility to range easily to either his left or right. The 22-year-old’s quick hands allow him to make smooth transfers and also adjust easily to changes in the anticipated path of the ball. The defensive game is rounded out by a solid-average-to-plus arm, which Marrero knows how to use and when to grab some extra strength based on where he is on the field. Offensively, the right-handed hitter’s stroke is typically short to the ball. His loose hands are able to pull the bat head inside of ball to clear out offerings on the inner-third or go inside-out to use the opposite field. Marrero’s batting eye presently shows polish. He picks up offerings quickly out of opposing pitchers’ hands and has an idea of his strike zone. The shortstop profiles as a gap hitter, with the ability to shoot line drives to the whole field.

Development Needs: Marrero is about maxed out on his frame and there isn’t much physical development ahead of him. Regardless of how much he fills out, it’s important for the shortstop to maintain his athleticism as most of his projection is based on the defense. Marrero can get the head of the bat moving, but there isn’t much leverage in the swing or power potential. He projects in the single digits for home runs. Making consistent hard contact and putting balls on a line will need to be large of his game. There’s work ahead of Marrero to improve upon his approach, especially with using the entire field. He flashes the ability to do so, but is inconsistent with the mindset. The 22-year-old won’t be able to maintain much of a batting average as a dead pull hitter and will be easy to pitch to. Hitting foul line-to-foul line is a must. At times the shortstop’s concentration and focus can drift, which leads to some lazy plays in the field or the giving away of at-bats at the plate. The level of engagement will be an area to watch over the course of the long season.

2013 Outlook: Marrero is a polished enough player overall to likely receive a placement in High A to start the season. His defense should be more than adequate and continue to show as an advanced part of his game. It will be interesting to see how things play out offensively for him. The shortstop is coming out of a major college program, and also played in 64 games with Lowell last year, which was a solid professional break-in period. I do have some questions about his offensive game overall though. Mainly relating to whether he’s going to be able to use the whole field consistently and generate enough solid contact against premium arms. This year will be a good test to see whether Marrero can push his approach and learn how to be the type of hitter he needs to be as a professional. I see this prospect as being able to profile as a bottom of the order hitter with work rounding out his needs. It will be a learning process, but one that he can begin to conquer this season.

Photo Credits: Brian Johnson and Deven Marrero by Dave Letizi

Chris Mellen is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisMellen