The 2015 Boston Red Sox are well aware, from General Manager Ben Cherington and Manager John Farrell on down, that neither Red Sox ownership nor the Red Sox Nation fan base will have much patience with another season in the American League East basement. With two last-place finishes wrapped around an inspiring 2013 World Series championship, Boston is determined — and in fact has no choice — but to field a serious pennant contender next season.
And to do that, they’ll need the whole organization on board — perhaps most important of all, the Red Sox corps of young prospects now mostly in the minor leagues.
Several of the top Red Sox prospects saw plenty of opportunity in Fenway during the 2104 season, especially after Cherington essentially threw in the towel at the July 31 trading deadline, dealing away almost one-third of his big league roster.
On the pitching side, however, most of the Boston prospects were disappointing. Anthony Ranaudo, Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa and Brandon Workman showed some signs of potential — though Workman in his second look in Boston actually regressed from his promising 2013 debut — but were mostly inconsistent.
The Red Sox now await the arrival of lanky lefty starter Henry Owens — but there is one other top pitching prospect whose name is rarely mentioned by Red Sox fans or the Boston media but who likely has the best shot of making an impact in Fenway Park for the 2015 edition of The Old Towne Team.
His name is Brian Johnson and, according to the respected Baseball America evaluation system, the lefty out of the University of Florida who will be 24 when the 2015 season opens, is now the third-ranked hurler in the Boston minor league system, behind Owens and yet another southpaw, 21-year-old Venezuelan Eduardo Rodriguez.
With Owens pegged for the Red Sox starting rotation, and Rodriguez — obtained at that same trade deadline from Baltimore in exchange for lefty reliever Andrew Miller — never having pitched higher than Double-A, Johnson will likely get more than a look in the left-handed middle-relief role being vacated by veteran Craig Breslow, who became a free agent when the Red Sox declined his $4 million option on Friday.
Taken in the first round of the 2012 draft by the Red Sox, Johnson suffered a setback that year when he was hit in the face by a line drive and missed the remainder of his first pro season.
But Johnson was never known as a dazzler anyway. His stocky, 235-pound, 6’3″ frame doesn’t have the look of an overpowering pitcher and his stuff confirms that perception. His fastball may top out at 95, but it’s most often clocked in the low 90s or high 80 mph range, with a tight but not spectacular curve that also serves as a change-up at around 75 mph.
What Johnson possesses, and what makes him a top candidate to fill Breslow’s slot in Boston, is consistency and control. In 20 games at Double-A Portland this past season, he posted a sparkling 0.93 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) and 1.75 ERA in 118 innings pitched, earning a promotion to the Triple A Pawtucket Red Sox for the International League playoffs.
Johnson induces ground balls, has an excellent pickoff move to first base and keeps the ball in the ballpark, allowing only 10 home runs in 234 professional innings since making his debut in the Red Sox farm system back in 2012.
Red Sox fans may not have heard his name mentioned often, but should be prepared to see Brian Johnson in a Boston uniform sometime in the 2015 season. In the meantime, a brief look at Johnson’s mound form can be seen in the video below.