Brian Johnson

Roster Recap: Let’s Root for Brian Johnson

Welcome to BP Boston’s second annual Roster Recap series. Over the next few months, we’ll be analyzing every player on Boston’s 40-man roster and many of their top prospects in order to provide a comprehensive overview of the Red Sox roster’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as what we can expect moving forward. From MVP-candidate right fielders to reserve relievers, we want to give you a look at every Red Sox who might matter in 2017. View the complete list of Roster Recaps here. Enjoy!


The numbers don’t necessarily show it, but 2016 was a huge year for Brian Johnson. Once a highly touted prospect — he was a first-round pick in 2012 — the lefty actively sought treatment for anxiety issues that threatened to derail his career in secret. As Alex Speier wrote, these issues presented themselves in numbness that trickled down his left (throwing) arm, down to his fingers; a distressing physical condition for anyone, leastwise someone who makes their living using the same arm. Fortunately for Johnson, he plays in an age where any organization worth a damn is both receptive to and proactive toward treating problems of this kind. With help, he’s working his way back toward the big leagues.

What went right in 2016

When Johnson asked for help after two bad starts at Pawtucket in May, he took a huge step forward toward a real major league career. It was not a step back. Previously sleepless and unable to concentrate on anything except baseball at any hour of the day, Johnson put the game aside and was finally able to rest. Between rest and therapy, he got himself right enough to at first begin living a stress- (and baseball-) free life, however possible. As Speier reported, he “started playing on his PS4 and going to virtually every movie he could.” Eventually Johnson started throwing and made appearances for the Gulf Coast League Red Sox and Lowell Spinner before returning to the PawSox to finish out his season. Across 77 innings at Triple-A, he put up a 4.09 ERA with a 54:36 K:BB ratio.

What went wrong in 2016

From a pure baseball perspective, Johnson’s minor league numbers have always threatened not to translate to the majors on a simple stuff level: he’s a soft-tossing lefty, albeit one with four pitches. The numbers in 2016 weren’t great, but, really, it’s beside the point. He was great in college and has been reliably good across the Sox minor league system, with an 2.60 ERA over 425.1 minor league innings. If 2016 is representative of his true talent level, he’s probably in trouble in the long-term, but there’s every reason not to nitpick last year’s performance. Sometimes it just doesn’t any damn good.

What to expect in 2017

Hopefully, Johnson remains healthy and continues his road back to the majors (he made one spot start in 2015). Unfortunately for him, the Red Sox don’t exactly lack for lefty starters at the  moment, but that has a way of changing quickly. At age 26, Johnson figures to be either running out of time or running into his peak fairly soon (or both), but if it’s the latter, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him called upon to make another emergency start or two during the year. It’s the whole reason he’s still around the organization, and hey: one start can turn into two, and two to three, and so on. The Red Sox believe in him. Thankfully for everyone, he does now, too.

Photo by Kim Klement/USA Today Sports Images

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