November 7, 2014 at 7:30 AM
Past entries in this year's Top 40 Season in Review series can be found here.
#6: Brian Johnson, SP
2014 Teams: Portland Sea Dogs, Salem Red Sox, Pawtucket Red Sox (playoffs only)
Final Stats: 143.2 IP, 13-3, 2.13 ERA, 101 H, 42 R/34 ER, 39 BB, 132 K, 0.97 WHIP
Season in Review: Selected with the 31st overall pick in the 2012 draft, Johnson progressed slowly in 2013, beginning the year in Low-A Greenville after an offseason spent rehabbing following a line drive to the face ended his first pro season. The left-hander made 15 starts for Greenville, posting a 2.87 ERA, before earning a promotion to Salem to end the season. Following a healthy offseason, Johnson started 2014 back in High-A and began to show why the Red Sox had initially expected him to move quickly through the system. He made just five starts with Salem, compiling a 3.86 ERA with 33 strikeouts and seven walks in 25 2/3 innings pitched. After a pair of dazzling, scoreless, six-inning starts—and back-to-back SoxProspects.com Pitcher of the Week awards—at the end of April, the Red Sox promoted Johnson to Double-A, where the southpaw really took off. In 20 outings with Portland, Johnson allowed more than two earned runs just once and finished with a 1.75 ERA in 118 innings.
The 23-year-old pitched especially well as the summer wore on, surrendering just four earned runs over an eight-start span between July and August, while striking out 44 batters and walking 13. Johnson won the SoxProspects.com Pitcher of the Month award for August, and his remarkable consistency earned him widespread recognition by season’s end. The Red Sox tabbed him as their 2014 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, while he was also named a Season-End All-Star on SoxProspects.com and earned the 2014 SoxProspects.com Pitcher and Breakout Player of the Year awards. In the Eastern League Playoffs, Johnson made one start, allowing two runs over seven innings to stake the Sea Dogs to a lead before the bullpen lost it. He was called up to Pawtucket after Portland was eliminated and much of the Pawtucket rotation was recalled to Boston, and in his first career Triple-A start in the Governor’s Cup Finals against Durham, Johnson gave up two runs on four hits over six innings pitched, striking out seven batters and walking none, once again earning the no-decision after leading with the lead. - Alex Skillin
Scouting Report and 2015 Outlook: Johnson will be entering his age 24 season. Listed at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, he has a strong frame and is filled out throughout. He is compact in his delivery, repeats well, and works incredibly quick. He works with a four-pitch mix and has advanced feel for all of his pitches, commanding and controlling all four pitches and showing advanced knowledge of pitching and sequencing. The fastball is pretty straight at 89-93 mph, grading about average. He commands and controls the pitch well to both sides of the plate. The curveball is his best secondary pitch at 73-76 mph with 1-to-7 break, and he can command to both sides of the plate. He also will throw the curveball to right-handed hitters both down-and-in on their back foot and back-door on the outside corner. The changeup, a pitch he feels he has made great strides with as a pro, is 85-86 mph with arm-side fade, and he will throw it to both right-handed and left-handed hitters in any count. The pitch grades about average and he throws it with confidence. His fourth offering is an average-grade slider at 82-83 mph with early, short, cutting-type action. He will double up on the pitch, and mixes it well to keep hitters guessing and off-balance. Johnson does not really have any one pitch that grades well above-average, which limits his ceiling. However, he has a floor of a very solid middle-back end starter with four average-grade pitches and average command and control, which is extremely hard to find.
Johnson was one of the best two-way players in the 2012 draft coming out of Florida. Given that, it is unbelievable how advanced his feel for pitching is, having just committed to pitching full time. I love how fast he works on the mound and his ability to pound the strike zone, especially as a left-hander. Johnson should get his first full-season taste of Triple-A in 2015 and a chance to prove his stuff will continue to play at the next level. Johnson is not currently on the 40-man roster and is not Rule 5 eligible until next offseason, so given that and the immense pitching depth in the system, Johnson may be on the lower tier of guys next in line for a call-up to the rotation. Johnson should continue to demonstrate consistency and ability to hold his ground at the Triple-A level in 2015, and we could see him sticking full time at the major league level as early as 2016 if he continues to impress with such great consistency. - Chaz Fiorino
Additional editorial support provided by Norm Cimon.
Photo credit: Kelly O'Connor