If you thought the selection of Deven Marrero at #24 by the Red Sox was a bit surprising, I’d have to imagine you were shocked when they selected lefty Brian Johnson from the University of Florida at the 31st pick. As a team that has favored upside over floor for quite awhile, drafting someone with a Baseball America scouting report like “He’s considered a safe, low-upside pick, with some hope that his stuff will become firmer as he focuses 100 percent on pitching,” makes you scratch your head a little bit.
Unlike the rationale with Marrero, I don’t know that I can make any justification for Johnson, at least not until I see his signing report. The above-mentioned scouting report ranked Johnson as the 39th best prospect in the class, which speaks more to a weak class than good value, in my estimation. My best guess here is that Johnson will sign under-slot, freeing up more room for the Red Sox to make runs at fourth-rounder Ty Buttrey and 29th rounder Alex Bregman.
There’s the glimmering hope that Johnson, who hasn’t focused exclusively on pitching, may add more velocity once he does so.
Johnson has an average arsenal, led by a fastball that can touch the low 90’s at its peak. He also throws a loopy curveball that has its moments, and a slider and change-up that don’t project to be more than average offerings down the road. He has something of a soft body, and he doesn’t project well long-term in terms of improving those offerings. He hides the ball well, however, and has shown good control throughout his time with Florida, issuing just 42 walks in over 200 innings with the Gators.
Sometimes when you look at college pitchers, the knock on them is that their stuff doesn’t match their production; in Johnson’s case, he doesn’t even have that to fall back on. He allowed more hits than innings pitched in his college career, averaged 7.18 strikeouts-per-nine, and gave up a fair amount of home runs for someone with his profile. At the very least, he doesn’t walk anyone, which will help his chances given that he’ll need to be nearly perfect to succeed at higher levels.
If there is any appeal to the Johnson selection, it’s that he should move extremely quickly. He has a body designed to shoulder a heavy workload, he has quite a bit of experience at the college level and he has good control of his offerings. I would like to see him immediately challenged with a Hi-A assignment once he signs. The only caveat I would mention is if the Red Sox want to tinker with him a little bit to see if there’s enough velocity to raise his ceiling. If there’s more velocity in there, the time spent in short-season or extended spring training could yield a more fruitful return.
With the exception of college relievers, pitchers with Johnson’s profile are often the quickest to reach the majors. The Red Sox have to think he’s a candidate for their 2014 rotation. The Sox have never done particularly well with that middle-level of players (i.e., those that don’t pan out as superstars but can represent a potential average regular) so Johnson would fit nicely if he could continue his performance.
In order for this pick to have value, Johnson will need to reach the majors and contribute relatively quickly. The longer it takes him to develop in the minors, and the more struggles that he has, the more I’ll believe the Red Sox would have been better served adding something with more upside. I have to think they were caught here playing it a little too conservative with their top picks, but we’ll see what they come away with at the end.
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