Welcome to this week’s edition of Fenway’s Future. We’ll look at a trio of pitchers, including Brian Johnson, the next-likeliest minor league candidate to get a spot-start opportunity with the Red Sox, as well as the top two pitching prospects in the system. We’ll also take a look into That Guy At Double-A Who Isn’t Benintendi or Moncada (i.e. Mauricio Dubon) and check in on Rusney Castillo. And, of course, Yoan Moncada.
Triple-A Pawtucket: Brian Johnson (LHP)
Johnson has had something of a tough 2016, working through anxiety issues that sidelined him for the better part of two months. The lefty returned to action at the beginning of July, making four starts in the low minors (two in rookie ball, another pair for Low-A Greenville) before returning to his spot in the Pawtucket rotation July 24. And since doing so, he’s been impressive. His first start back with the Triple-A squad was rough, as he lasted just three innings. But Johnson’s four subsequent starts have been masterful, working to a 1.78 ERA with a 3-1 record across a combined 25.1 innings. He has never had much in the way of a swing-and-miss pitch (nothing compared to the almighty Joe Kelly’s #stuff), and that hasn’t changed this year. But in these past four starts, Johnson has shown very solid control, walking only four while striking a passable 15. That has been good enough to keep his WHIP at a remarkably tidy 0.91.
The almost-downside to this short stretch is Johnson’s slightly inflated 3.57 FIP. All of these stats, of course, are accompanied by a flashing bright red sign reading “small sample size.” Regardless, props to Brian Johnson. By all accounts, it’s been a tough year for the big hurler, but he’s bounced back to an impressive performance level. After Henry Owens’ eight-run showing on Sunday, Johnson could be next in line to start if Eduardo Rodriguez can’t make his next start.
Also hey don’t look now but Rusney Castillo kinda sorta might be hitting .366 since July 27. He also may or may not have zero home runs in that 22-game span. But, psh, who likes homers anyway. Hooray for $72.5 million Cuban investments!
Double-A Portland: Mauricio Dubon (SS)
So, you may have heard, but the Red Sox have two young prospects that have spent the bulk of the season in Portland. And, believe it or not, the Sea Dogs have players that are not Yoan Moncada or Andrew Benintendi. Mauricio Dubon is one of those players, and also concurrently is good at baseball. Dubon is slashing .332/.365/.526 in 49 games since being called up to Double-A, knocking four homers and driving in 31. All of those dingers have come since July 31, during an 18-game stretch where the Dubon is hitting .370 with a 1.066 OPS.
Dubon clearly thinks walks are for nerds, taking free passes just 4.8 percent of the time, but he’s also not too whiff-prone, striking out in just 9.9 percent of at-bats since the end of July. SoxProspects has Dubon listed as the 11th-best prospect in the Red Sox system, but he might climb his way up at least slightly if he wraps up the season hitting as well as he has thus far at Double-A.
Quick update on Yoan Moncada:
The Cuban phenom is back from a pretty rough-looking ankle sprain. And he’s playing third now, where he could actually find playing time at the Major League level! Swell! Well, in his first game at the hot corner, Moncada went 0-for-5 with four punch outs and an error. So, yeah. But from the good news corner, he looked better in his second day at third on Monday. According to noted smart person Ben Badler of Baseball America, he has a plus arm and good range on the left side of the infield.
High-A Salem: Michael Kopech (RHP)
He may not be touching 105 MPH in every start, but Kopech has remained incredibly effective with the Salem squad in his couple months since returning to the mound. The somehow-just-20-year-old is 3-1 (meaningless win-loss record alert!) with a 1.29 ERA in 10 starts. He’s walked a bunch of dudes who definitely are incapable of hitting him, issuing 26 free passes while only allowing 27 hits. Still, he has kept his WHIP at a very palatable 1.09. Kopech also refuses to stop striking everyone out. Seriously, it’s a little ridiculous. He has 75 punch outs in 48.2 innings pitched. He has 10 or more K’s in three of his past four starts. Kopech might be just a little bit too good for High-A.
Gulf Coast League: Jason Groome (LHP)
Yeah, that’s right, we’re going all the way down to Rookie Ball in Fort Myers. You probably thought you wouldn’t have to hear about that place until next February, yet here we are, and it’s all due to 12th-overall pick this year Jason Groome. The left-hander made his professional debut on Monday, throwing two shutout innings on 30 pitches, 19 of which went for strikes. He allowed a single hit and struck out three. If you want to read some actual reporting and quotes from Groome’s debut, go check out Alex Speier’s writeup in the Globe. In the meantime, rejoice over the addition of another pitching prospect to pile high with unreasonable expectations!
Photo by Kelly O’Connor/www.sittingstill.smugmug.com