With so much uncertainty surrounding this year’s draft and it’s new rules, it was interesting to see the different kinds of approaches teams took to drafting their talent. Some went for broke and blew through bonus pools while others elected to lay up and select players that seemed like more of a sure thing.
Such was the case with Red Sox #31 pick Brian Johnson, who was widely considered to be one of the best two-way players in the draft. He’s incredibly athletic and at 6’4 and 225lbs, there isn’t much filling out left to do. He’s got a dependable, durable arm, but shouldn’t be expected to blow hitters away with his stuff. He tops off at around 92mph but likes to sit in the 90-91mph range most of the time. While that’s nothing to sneeze at, he relies mostly on his stellar command in order to miss bats. Still, considering his overall frame, it’s hard to see him getting much bigger –OR- adding much velocity.
In addition to his fastball, Johnson offers a curve ball that sometimes gets mistaken for a slurve, with more of a 1-7 break. Despite the in-between nature of the pitch, the break is tight and has lots of late bite, making it a borderline plus pitch. His slider is OK, but he’s probably better off sticking to the curve over the long haul. He has a ‘show me’ changeup that mostly profiles as a burn pitch. Overall, a four pitch mix should play well – especially in the low-minors.
A lot of his upside seems to be rooted in his status as a two-way player with the thought being that if he concentrates more on just pitching, that he’ll refine his skills faster than most. He has very sound mechanics and seems to understand pitching on a more nuanced level than other pitchers his age. He pounds the zone with his breaking pitches and is able to work both the horizontal and vertical halves of the plate seamlessly. He sequences his pitches well and even shows signs of improvement as he moves through lineups a second and third time. Mix in his very repeatable, smooth delivery, and you’ve got a very polished prospect.
All in all- Johnson offers a solid arsenal that’s amplified by his plus-plus command and durability. There is some risk with regarding his velocity and it’s yet to be determined how well he’ll adjust to a pro workload. However, if he can adapt, he’s a pitcher with a very advanced skill set compared to others his age and should progress through the system quickly. His projections by most scouts was as a #3 starter, but if his velocity comes around, he may peak at a #2. If the Red Sox were looking for something closer to a ‘sure bet’, Johnson was a great pick.