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April 28, 2015 at 9:30 AM

The Write-Up: Matt Barnes, Brian Johnson, Keith Couch

Assistant Director of Scouting Chaz Fiorino checks in with scouting observations from recent Pawtucket Red Sox games.

April 19: 5 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 3 K

In his 25th-career Triple-A start, and second start of 2015, right-hander Matt Barnes threw a total of 84 pitches as he continued to get stretched back out as a starter. Barnes displayed strong control in the outing with 54 of 84 total pitches for strikes, and 16 of 22 first-pitch strikes. Barnes also generated seven total swing-and-misses in this outing. He featured a three-pitch mix: a fastball, curveball, and changeup.

The fastball was 91-95 mph, sitting mostly 92-94. Barnes located well for the most part, but made one mistake-pitch, a 2-2 fastball he left over the middle of the plate that was belted for a two-run home run. Outside of that pitch, he located pretty well, particularly arm-side, picking up one of his three strikeouts on a 1-2 fastball down and in at the knees that caught the right-handed hitter looking. Barnes fastball was mostly straight with some slight arm-side run when down in the zone. The pitch tends to get on hitters quick and is a plus-grade offering.

The curveball was 81-83 mph with his typical tight, late break, buried down and out of the zone. The pitch continues to flash plus and is the better of his two secondary pitches with bat-missing ability. The changeup was 82-85 mph with arm-side fade. Barnes threw a heavy dose of changeups in the outing, seemingly focused on improving the pitch. It is still a fringe-average grade pitch for me at this point, and he struggles to command the pitch and keep it down in the zone. Barnes picked up one of his three strikeouts on a 1-2 changeup to a right-handed hitter. However, catcher Blake Swihart was set up away and the pitch sailed up and in, but the right-hander ended up chasing for the strikeout.

Barnes is ready to provide an immediate impact in a major league bullpen, which is where his ultimate future may actually be. However, still only 24 years old, Barnes features a plus-grade fastball, potential plus-grade breaking ball, and potential average-grade third offering in his changeup. For that reason, it makes sense to continue to develop Barnes as a potential starter to see if he can continue to develop consistency with the breaking ball, changeup, and overall command to reach his ceiling of a potential middle-back end starting pitcher at the big league level.

April 21 (Game 1): 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 5 K

Left-hander Brian Johnson took the mound in the first game of the doubleheader for his third start of 2015 and third-career Triple-A start. The end result was a quick 89-minute, seven-inning shutout thanks to Johnson’s incredibly quick pace on the mound and ability to throw strikes. Johnson featured his four-pitch mix of fastball, slider, curveball, and changeup with command and control of all his pitches during this outing. Johnson threw 58 of 90 total pitches for strikes. He struck out five, while generating six swing and misses. Most notably, Johnson threw an impressive 19 of 23 first pitch strikes, consistently getting ahead in the count.

Johnson’s fastball ranged 88-92 mph, sitting mostly at 89-91 mph. Johnson commanded the fastball well all day. He picked up one of his five strikeouts in the second inning on a perfectly located fastball on the inner-half in a 3-2 count that caught the left-handed hitter looking.

The slider sat 79-82 and was the best secondary offering of the day with tight, long cutting action. He threw the slider mostly away to left-handed hitters, and was able to generate a couple swing and misses with the pitch. The curveball was mostly 75 mph with longer, looser break than I have seen in the past. However, it was still an effective, average-grade pitch that he was able to command in the zone. Johnson picked up his fifth strikeout looking in the seventh inning on a backdoor 2-2 curveball to a right-handed hitter. The changeup was 80-82 mph and mostly thrown to right-handed hitters. His control of the pitch wavered at times, missing arm-side and up to righties out of the strike zone. However, he was able to make an adjustment, and overall, it was a 50-grade pitch. 

Overall, Johnson continues to feature a four-pitch mix with all pitches grading at least average, with command and control of all with consistency. His average-grade fastball that lacks movement and overall lack of legitimate swing-and-miss offerings may limit his ceiling to that of a third starter. However, his overall profile will certainly play in the middle-back end of a rotation. Johnson is not currently on the organization's 40-man roster and does not need to be added until the offseason in order to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. With Eduardo Rodriguez, Steven Wright, and Barnes already on the roster, they would probably be the first ones up to fill in the major league rotation if the need were to arise. The next wave would include Johnson and Henry Owens, who Johnson has probably passed to be called up at this point.

April 21 (Game 2): 4 2/3 IP, 8 H, 3 R (2 ER), 1 BB, 1 K

Right-hander Keith Couch took the mound for the second game of the doubleheader. This start marked his third of 2015 and fourth-career Triple-A start. Couch threw 50 of 84 total pitches for strikes and 13 of 22 first-pitch strikes, while generating two swing and misses. Couch works with a four-pitch mix of fastball, slider, curveball, and changeup.

The fastball ranged 88-92 mph, sitting mostly 89-90 mph. The pitch generates two-seam, arm-side run and sink away from left-handed hitters when down in the zone, grading about average at best. Couch picked up his lone strikeout of the outing on a 3-2 fastball that started away from a right-handed hitter and ran back over the outside corner of the plate to pick up the strikeout looking.

The slider was 78-81 mph with early, long break. It is currently an average-grade offering at best. The curveball was 73-75 mph with early break out of the hand and slurvy action. He threw the curve to both right-handed and left-handed hitters while showing the ability to throw it back-door to left-handed hitters for strikes. The pitch was average-grade and could develop further with possible tighter rotation and consistency. The changeup was 81-83 thrown with good arm speed. It graded out around fringe-average.

Couch fills up the strike zone with his four pitches, but lacks an above-average offering with bat-missing potential. Couch relies on his sinker and pitch mix to keep hitters off balance and guessing with his ability to throw all of them for strikes. He is a prototypical pitch-to-contact strike thrower. He will need to further develop one of his breaking balls and his changeup to pitch at the next level.

Photo credit: Matt Barnes, Brian Johnson, and Keith Couch by Kelly O'Connor.

Chaz Fiorino is Assistant Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @cbfiorino.