He’s been a highly rated prospect for years. This spring could be Brian Johnson’s last chance to prove to John Farrell and Dave Dombrowski that he belongs with the Red Sox.
A first round pick in 2012, Brian Johnson has been one of the better pitching prospects for the past couple of years. He’s always been considered more of a complete pitcher compared to others. His fastball sits somewhere between the high 80’s to low 90’s, so he’s had to rely on his accuracy and intelligence.
It’s not something you can quantify, but Brian Johnson hasn’t much luck over the past two years. In 2015 he was off to a great start. He had a 2.72 ERA before being called up to the MLB. He made his debut against the Astros, throwing 4.1 innings and giving up 4 runs. After his outing he was sent back down to Pawtucket. Johnson made two more starts in AAA, then was shut down for the rest of the year in early August.
His troubles continued on October 30, 2015, when was held at gunpoint and carjacked near his home in Florida. The trauma from the incident carried into last season, resulting in Johnson being placed on the inactive list in order for him to fix his anxiety issues. He returned to the mound in early July, but was never able to regain the form he had in 2015.
In my opinion, it’s fair to consider last season an anomaly. Johnson has a proven track record of being much better than what last year’s numbers indicate. However, there are some cause for concern. All of his numbers were worse, compared to his 2015 season. Below, I show both seasons side-by-side (2015, 2016):
ERA – 2.53, 4.09
WHIP – 1.104, 1.429
Hits/9 – 6.9, 8.6
BB/9 – 3.0, 4.2
SO/9 – 8.4, 6.3
As we all know, the Red Sox have a log jam in their starting rotation. Chris Sale, David Price, and last year’s Cy Young winner, Rick Porcello headline the front of the rotation. That leaves Eduardo Rodriguez, Drew Pomeranz, and Steven Wright all fighting for the remaining rotation spots. Brian Johnson finds himself potentially on the outside looking in. That’s why I think this spring training is vital for Johnson.
He needs to prove to John Farrell and Dave Dombrowski that he’s more than just a “prospect”, but instead a Major League-ready pitcher. The most important thing is that he improves his accuracy. He walked far too many batters last year. He’s never been a big strikeout guy, so limiting the walks is imperative. Working on his accuracy should also to lead to fewer hits because he’s making better pitches. Johnson averaged allowed almost a hit per inning last year in Pawtucket.
If Johnson continues to be inconsistent, he becomes expendable. There’s no sense wasting time waiting for him to blossom, especially since most of the rotation is locked up for the next couple of years. But if Johnson proves that he fixed his issues, he makes one of the other starters expendable.