Brian Johnson

Setting Reasonable Expectations for Brian Johnson

After a miserable three months, the Red Sox are doing their best to get everyone’s hopes up that they’ll get back into playoff contention. They’re now just five games behind the Yankees in the division standings with a three-game series coming up this weekend. The offense is finally starting to click in the way we all expected before the season. The defense has been much better, too. Hanley Ramirez hasn’t suddenly transformed into Alex Gordon in left, but he’s looking a lot more comfortable out there than he was a couple months ago. To no one’s surprise, however, the pitching still needs help, and is ultimately the biggest reason to be cautious about how optimistic you let yourself get.

While the bullpen has been an issue, as I talked about last week, the rotation needs its own improvements if Boston is going to make an improbable playoff run. At this point, Justin Masterson is a liability in the rotation, and Rick Porcello isn’t much better. At least one of them is going to need to be replaced, and it’s going to need to happen sooner rather than later. Joe Kelly and Steven Wright are certainly options, but they’re not the ones anyone is hoping for. That designation belongs to Brian Johnson, the new phenom amongst Red Sox fans.

It’s impossible to deny that this is an exciting proposition. Any time a top prospect that we hear about for years finally makes the majors, it’s a lot fun. The anticipation of seeing their first major-league action is something that is almost unmatched in the sport. Johnson fits this bill, too. We’ve been waiting for his arrival since he was taken with the 27th pick in the 2012 draft. He was recently ranked the 38th best prospect in the game by Baseball America. Before the season, he was a top ten prospect in Boston’s farm system per almost every publication out there. It’s hard not to get excited about a guy like this potentially coming up. It doesn’t hurt that he plays the position that marks the team’s biggest weakness.

With all of that said, it’s also important to keep expectations in check. That’s definitely not to say you shouldn’t be excited — even I’m not that much of a buzzkill — it just means you shouldn’t be expecting another Eduardo Rodriguez. Although they are at similar points in their development and find themselves in similar spots in many organization rankings, they are completely different pitchers. Johnson doesn’t have the same kind of stuff as Rodriguez, and relatedly doesn’t have anywhere near the same kind of upside. When Rodriguez first came up he completely dominated in his first three starts. Johnson shouldn’t be expected to be that kind of savior for this suddenly contending club.

In the end, he is a control/command kind of pitcher without a true put-away pitch. He likely profiles as a back-end starter with the ceiling of a number three/four. As obnoxious as those kind of labels can be, it is the best way to describe who and what he is. On the plus side, he’s already very far along in his development and is certainly ready to contribute at the major-league level. Unfortunately, this is the kind of profile that can be knocked around a little bit, especially in their first taste of major-league pitching. It’s one thing to command/control your way through the minors. It’s an entirely different beast to do it against major-league lineups. Don’t just take my word for it, though. To the scouting reports!

First up, Al Skorupa has seen Johnson three times this season, and had this to say.

“Johnson could have a long career as a command and control back end starter, but without a big fastball or an out-pitch, Johnson’s margin for error is small on any given day.”

Also for Baseball Prospectus, Chris Mellen has written up reports on Johnson twice this year.

“The pitcher will need to live consistently in the lower tier of the strike zone and on the corners, especially with his fastball, and the path to success resides in constantly being very mindful of his sequencing. A fine line exists, but one I fully believe Johnson will be able to navigate into a fruitful career as a back-of-the-rotation starter.”

“The lefty’s chances of sticking in the rotation over the long haul hinge on the command continuing to stay at current levels. Any regression or inability to maintain it in long stretches likely pushes him to the bullpen, but the belief is that the feel for and approach to the game will allow the overall profile to play up.”

Moving away from BP, Sox Prospects is one of the best resources for Red Sox fans on the internet. They have this to say.

“Future number four or five starter. Four average pitch mix with solid-average command and control. Lacks swing-and-miss pitch and a plus offering. Advanced knowledge of pitching and sequencing. Strong pitchability, knows how to pitch.”

Finally, John Sickels wrote this before the season began.

“Classic four-pitch college-trained lefty, nothing spectacular with the stuff but knows how to pitch, not as much upside as Barnes or Ranaudo but perhaps more likely to reach what upside he has.”

None of this is to say that Johnson isn’t an improvement over someone like Masterson. He almost certainly is! It’s also not to say he doesn’t deserve a chance to start in the majors as soon as possible. He certainly does! For all of the questions about his stuff, scouts can’t stop raving about his makeup, and that bodes well for his transition to the majors. What is important to keep in mind, however, is this isn’t an ace we’re talking about. Rodriguez came up and was able to use his stuff to single-handedly win a couple of games. Johnson, on the other hand, is going to give a consistent effort and keep the Red Sox in most games, but he’ll need the offense to do its part as well. Be excited for his arrival in Boston whenever it comes. He’s young, and could be part of this team’s future. Just don’t be upset when he is who he is, not who you want him to be.

Photo by Kelly O’Connor/

Related Articles

Leave a comment

Use your Baseball Prospectus username