On Wednesday night, Brian Johnson finally showed some consistency, delivering his second straight solid performance for Triple-A Pawtucket. Johnson would go six innings against the Rochester Red Wings, striking out six, walking three, and surrendering one run on three hits. It was a huge step in the right direction for the left-hander, who has struggled to string together a number of strong performances since returning to the mound on July 4. The 2016 season hasn’t been an easy one for Johnson, who has battled injuries and an anxiety issue for most of the season. Prior to this start, Brian was even better against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He went six innings in that performance, striking out six and walking none while not allowing a run. One of the biggest attractions to Johnson’s game while coming up through the minors was his consistency every fifth day. Getting to finally see that again goes a long way towards rebuilding Brian Johnson’s stock as a future rotation arm.
This year, Johnson has made 14 starts in Triple-A, going 4-4 with a 4.12 ERA while posting an ugly 5.4 BB/9 and 7.5 K/9. Those numbers alone don’t reflect who Brian Johnson is when he’s healthy. Throughout his minor league career, the former first-round pick has averaged a strong 6.9 H/9, 3.2 BB/9, and a promising 8.4 K/9. On top of that, he’s posted a great ERA at each minor league level he’s come across. Since seeing Johnson struggle in his debut against the Houston Astros last season (4.1 IP, 3 H, 3 SO, 4 BB, 4 ER), it’s easy to forget he ranked within Baseball America’s top 100 prospects prior to 2015. He carries a mature and well-rounded arsenal that should play up at the major league level if given a chance to shine. Over the years, the Red Sox have had so many high-ceiling/low-floor pitching prospects come through the door. Brian is the rare exception, being a guy who may not have a huge ceiling, but a very solid floor that can stick in a major-league starting rotation.
The initial injury that kicked off Johnson’s downpour of issues began with an ulnar nerve problem in his left elbow last August. It wasn’t an easy injury to deal with, as it looked like he could possibly miss time this year if surgery was required to correct something. Luckily the Red Sox caught the issue early and were able to move past any long-term consequences. It would cause him to hit the disabled list for the final two months of the 2015 season though, costing him some important development time in the big leagues. Then, in October, Johnson was a victim of a carjacking in Cocoa Beach, Florida. It was as if the lefty couldn’t catch a break. But by the time spring training rolled around, things were looking up for Johnson after a troublesome end to last season.
The bad luck failed to go away, though, as Johnson suffered a sprained left big toe in spring training that cost him an opportunity to fill in for the injured Eduardo Rodriguez. Johnson would start the season back in Triple-A, where he scuffled until May 21st. On that date, he informed the Red Sox he had been dealing with an anxiety issue. Boston would place him on the temporary inactive list, where he took a step back from the game for a while. Since Johnson’s return on the fourth of July, it seems he has overcome these different obstacles he’s faced. It’s nice to see one of the most talented arms in Boston’s minor league system finally get back on track in his career. Even though Brian’s road to “The Show” has been bumpy, it goes to show how tough of a guy he really is, even when things aren’t going his way.
As the regular season winds down for the Red Sox, they are going to need some pitching depth besides Clay Buchholz in the starting rotation. With Henry Owens still finding himself down in Triple-A and Roenis Elias struggling to achieve any level of consistency, Brian Johnson is the next man up. If it wasn’t for the issues that plagued Johnson’s development as of late, he likely would have had another shot at a rotation spot in Boston earlier this season. There’s no doubt Johnson would have received at least a few starts instead of Sean O’Sullivan and his 6.75 ERA. At this point, though, Brian is a fresh arm and is already on the 40-man roster, so he’ll be an easy insurance policy for whenever this Red Sox starting rotation takes another hit. The most important thing for Johnson right now is not to worry about getting that promotion immediately. His main focus needs to be about working to get back to where he was before his health problems popped up. If Brian Johnson can regain that form, he’ll be a huge asset for this team down the stretch and going into next season.