Brian Johnson

Fenway’s Future: Brian Johnson, Luis Ysla, Nick Longhi and More

In this week’s Fenway’s Future we take a look a pitcher who is on the fringe of the major league rotation, another potential left-handed bullpen option in Portland, a first-baseman who is recognized as one the best pure hitters in the system, two pitchers at Greenville who are showing upside, and quickly check-in on a few familiar names.

Triple-A Pawtucket: Brian Johnson (LHP)

Brian Johnson has been on the Fenway’s Future radar for the last couple of seasons. The big lefty is expected to provide the pitching depth the Red Sox will need over the course of another long season. Johnson did not earn a spot in the big league rotation in the spring, as he was limited by a sprained toe that forced him to miss a couple of weeks. The toe injury was costly, but the decision to start Johnson in Pawtucket is understandable given that he is also working his way back from a nerve-related elbow injury that abruptly ended his 2015 season. He was able to avoid surgery on his elbow but the Red Sox are still treating him carefully as they know the sort of asset he can be.

After missing time this spring, Johnson is still getting stretched out, so his starts have been shorter than is typical for an effective starter at the Triple-A level. Regardless, his two outings (4.0 and 5.1 innings, respectively) have been solid. He has allowed only three runs, given up 10 hits, struck out nine opponents and walked three (2.89 RA9, 3.66 FIP). While only two starts, these results suggest the effectiveness he showed at Pawtucket in 2015 remains, and now he needs to continue working up the necessary arm strength to remain effective deeper into games.

If Johnson continues to pitch as effectively as he has in the early going and shows that his elbow and toe issues are behind him, he could be pitching in Boston soon. Johnson and teammate Henry Owens have put themselves in a position to be the first ones called upon when a spot opens in the Red Sox rotation.

Quick updates on Rusney Castillo (OF) and Blake Swihart (C, OF)

Through Monday’s games, Castillo has started four times, once at each of the outfield spots (and another in left field), posted a .375/.524/.438 line in 19 plate appearances, and has stolen three bases without getting caught. Simply put, things are looking much better for Rusney.

Swihart has started two games, both at catcher, and posted a .200/.200/.300 line in 10 PA. On the defensive side of things he has erased two of the four would-be base stealers who tested him.

Double-A Portland: Luis Ysla (LHP)

Last week, I noted that an area in which the Red Sox are thin is left-handed relief arms. With this in mind I suggested this could help Williams Jerez get on the fast track to the major league bullpen. The same is true for Jerez’s teammate, Luis Ysla. The Red Sox acquired Ysla from the San Francisco Giants late last season in exchange for Alejandro De Aza. Ysla pitched well in each of his first two season in the Giants system (172.1 innings, 3.13 RA9, 167:58 SO:BB) earning All-Star honors in both seasons. A promotion to High-A and move to the bullpen for the 2015 season affected his performance significantly. In 84.2 innings he allowed 60 runs! He did strike out more than one batter per inning (101) but still walked too many (43).

Despite the shaky results at High-A last season, the Red Sox have started Ysla at Double-A. Ysla throws hard, reportedly hitting 97mph this spring, and from his roots as a starter has a slider and changeup that can be effective. In four outings this year, Ysla has posted three scoreless appearances around one rough one in which he allowed all three of the runs he has surrendered this year; two coming on a home run to Colorado Rockies’  prospect David Dahl. Ysla is still doing his strike out thing this year, locking up four Ks in his five innings pitched, but has two walks, which is something he will need to focus on reducing if he is to earn another promotion.

High-A Salem: Nick Longhi (1B)

Nick Longhi, just 20-years old, is considered a tremendous hitter, perhaps one of the best in the Red Sox system, who reportedly possesses great power that has yet to show up in games, but is there. After posting a solid slash line at Low-A in 2015, he started the 2016 season on a tear. In his first three games he had a .417/.462/.500 line, but since then his output has declined considerably. Over his next eight games he has hit a measly .188/.229/.281. His primary issue thus far has been in the strikeout department. Longhi is striking out almost 10 percent more than he did at the lower levels, which is an indication that he is having trouble adjusting to the effectiveness of the pitching at the High-A level. It is still early – he only has 43 PA – so he still has plenty of opportunity to show that he can get back to performing more like he has in the past.

Quick updates on the Big-Three:

Yoan Moncada has a .333/.444/.528 line in his 46 PA, with seven steals (three times caught stealing).

Andrew Benintendi is hitting .326/.396/.651 in his 48 PA, with four doubles and five triples.

Rafael Devers has struggled to a .143/.268/.314 line in his 41 PA, but he has walked more times (6) than he has struck out (5), and is the only one of these three with a home run.

These guys are good.

Low-A Greenville: Roniel Raudes (RHP) and Jake Cosart (RHP)

Roniel Raudes is an exciting player who, at 18-years old, is really young for the Low-A level. However, Raudes does have 18-year old company on the Drive, as Red Sox’s top-pitching prospect Anderson Espinoza is also on the team. Despite being relatively unheralded, it is Raudes who has limited opponents to the greatest extent through two turns of the rotation. In his two starts (10 innings), Raudes has allowed only one run, given up seven hits, walked one and struck out nine. That is an excellent pitching line for this young man. Thus far, he is taking the challenge of the assignment to Low-A in stride. Raudes could be on the verge of a breakout this year, and could see a corresponding jump up the prospect rankings.

Coming out of the bullpen behind Raudes is 22-year old, righty Jake Cosart. Cosart is a converted outfielder and converted starter. In 2015, Cosart struggled as a starting pitcher while with short season Lowell (5.45 RA9, 5.15 FIP in 33.0 innings). Given his ability to throw hard – fastball typically sits in the mid-90s – the Red Sox decided to move him to the bullpen this spring and thus far the results have been better. Ten of the 28 batters he has faced have been retired by way of the strikeout, but he has had control issues, leading to four walks; one in each of his appearances. Cosart has been dominant in three of his four outings. In his three good outings (5.0 innings) he has allowed no runs and allowed only one hit. In the bad one he gave up four hits and two runs in just 1.1 innings. The conversion to life as a reliever is likely still a work in progress for Cosart, but the 3-good-to-1-bad outing ratio is a solid development in the early going.

Photo by Kelly O’Connor/

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