Left-hander Brian Johnson wrapped up his regular season with a 1.75 ERA in Double-A Portland. (365DigitalPhotography.com / Portland Sea Dogs)
Left-hander Brian Johnson, in a five-inning tuneup outing for Double-A Portland before the start of the playoffs, was once again dominant, tossing five shutout innings in which he allowed two hits (both singles), didn’t walk anyone, struck out a batter and elicited 10 groundball outs. He retired 13 straight at one point.
The outing represented a continuation of a completely dominant five weeks. In his last six starts, Johnson has four outings of two or fewer hits allowed (three in which he’s given up just one hit) with a 0.67 ERA, 37 strikeouts, 10 walks and a staggering .093 batting average against.
Of course, those totals didn’t even represent that drastic a departure from the season for a pitcher whose 1.75 ERA is far and away the best in the Eastern League (the second-best mark is 2.55, with Eastern League Pitcher of the Year Henry Owens ranking third with a 2.60 mark).
Between High-A Salem and Double-A Portland, Johnson went 13-3 with a 2.13 ERA, 8.3 strikeouts and 2.4 walks per nine innings. Perhaps more significantly, he’s logged 143 2/3 innings, up 69 percent from the 85 frames he was able to pitch in 2013 when he missed roughly two months with shoulder tendinitis, following an offseason where he couldn’t have a normal offseason conditioning program while rehabbing from a line drive off the face that prevented him from eating solids for months and from being able to work out for much of the winter.
But with a healthy winter this past offseason, the 23-year-old looked like the pitcher whom the Red Sox hoped to see when they drafted him in the first round in 2012. With health, he showed a consistent delivery that permitted him to thrive based on his feel for pitching and precise execution that was second to none in the organization. His changeup made considerable strides, to the point where he had a fairly complete mix (fastball, curve, change, sometimes a cutter/slider) that permitted him to attack every part of the strike zone, with dazzling results.
In his last 22 starts of the year between Salem and Portland, he permitted more than two earned runs just once. While Owens was named the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year and Anthony Ranaudo was named the International League Pitcher of the Year, Johnson had the best season of any pitcher in the Red Sox organization. He is WEEI.com’s 2014 Red Sox Pitching Prospect of the Year.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: Johnson will join Down on the Farm on Sunday morning from 8:30-9 a.m. to take stock of his 2014 season. The program will also feature an interview with the Red Sox Prospect Player of the Year.
A brief look at rest of the action in the Red Sox farm system on Thursday:
TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 8-5 WIN AT LEHIGH VALLEY (PHILLIES)
– Garin Cecchini: Streaking. Cecchini went 2-for-4 with a walk, giving his three straight multi-hit games. Over 18 games since August 9, he’s raised his batting average by 28 points (.236 to .264), his OBP by 29 points (.314 to .343) and his slugging mark by 48 points (.327 to .375).
– Blake Swihart went 2-for-5 with a double, his fourth multi-hit game in 16 contests since his promotion to Pawtucket. He’s hitting .254/.277/.381 in Pawtucket.
– Despite permitting six baserunners (four hits, two walks) in just 1 2/3 innings, left-hander Drake Britton managed to navigate through his fourth straight scoreless appearance, his longest such stretch since he reeled off six straight scoreless appearances in April. The 25-year-old has lowered his ERA from 6.98 to 6.07 during the run.
– Left-hander Ryan Verdugo, pushed into a spot start with the Sox’ decision to call up Anthony Ranaudo to start Friday’s game, punched out eight (his most in 10 games with the PawSox, and his second highest total overall this year, surpassed only by the nine he struck out while still with the Royals’ Triple-A affiliate) while allowing three runs on six hits and three walks in 4 2/3 innings. Verdugo is 2-1 with a 3.45 ERA and a hefty 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings since the PawSox acquired him. Lefties are hitting .185 against him with 11 punchouts in 31 plate appearances.
– Center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. went 2-for-5 with a walk and two strikeouts. It was his second multi-hit game in three contests and his fourth in 11 games since being sent down, improving his line to .222/.250/.296.
DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 3-1 LOSS VS. READING (PHILLIES)
– Corner outfielder Keury De La Cruz rebounded from a pair of hitless games by going 3-for-4, his ninth multi-hit game in August. He’s hitting .349/.421/.578 with four homers and seven doubles this month.
– Manager Billy McMillon was named the Eastern League Manager of the Year, the first time since 1996 that a Sea Dogs manager had been so honored. More of McMillon’s impressive managerial track record can be found here.
HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 10-3 LOSS AT FREDERICK (ORIOLES)
– Left-hander Cody Kukuk once again proved unable to find the strike zone, allowing five runs on six hits and five walks in just 3 2/3 innings. He punched out three. Kukuk has five straight outings of at least four walks, and in 20 starts this year with Salem (after a promotion following five starts in Greenville), the 21-year-old with head-turning stuff is 4-7 with a 5.26 ERA, 10.0 strikeouts and 8.1 walks per nine innings. That’s roughly in line with a 2013 campaign in Greenville where Kukuk likewise showed swing-and-miss stuff (9.5 strikeouts per nine) but an inability to harness it (6.8 walks per nine). And so, for the second year running, he displays the greatest disparity between ceiling and floor of any pitcher in the Red Sox system.
– Outfielder Matty Johnson went 1-for-3 with a pair of walks. He has now reached base in 30 straight games. During that time, the speedy 26-year-old is hitting .365/.455/.522. For the year, in 127 games, he’s hitting .281/.380/.381.
SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 10-0 LOSS AT CHARLESTON (YANKEES)
– In a dismal final note for what has been a surprisingly difficult year, right-hander Jamie Callahan recorded just two outs, allowing five runs on three hits and three walks, before getting lifted when his pitch count hit 40 (with just 19 of those pitches going for strikes). Callahan, who turned 20 on Sunday, wraps up his year with a 3-13 record, 6.96 ERA, 7.4 strikeouts per nine innings and 5.4 walks per nine, with opponents hitting .309 against him.
Callahan has two things working in his favor: Age (he was among the youngest starters in the South Atlantic League) and durability (he made all 25 of his starts). So, even though he’ll almost surely be in a position to repeat in Greenville next year, time remains, to some degree, on his side as he seeks to resurrect his prospect status.
SHORT-SEASON SINGLE-A LOWELL SPINNERS: 13-1 WIN VS. ABERDEEN (ORIOLES)
– Left-hander Jake Drehoff was once again dominant, tossing six shutout innings in which he punched out a season-high eight and walked none. The 22-year-old has allowed two or fewer runs in each of his last six outings, with a 1.06 ERA in that span. In his last two outings, he has 13 innings without an earned run.
– Shortstop Mauricio Dubon went 2-for-4 with a pair of singles and a walk, improving to .311/.331/.387 in 62 games this year. The 20-year-old is hitting .366/.365/.415 in August, though his hot stretch requires this asterisk: The walk he elicited on Thursday was his first of the month against 13 strikeouts.
– Third baseman Jordan Betts went 2-for-4 with a double, giving the strong third baseman with above-average power 27 extra-base hits in 60 games in his pro debut. The 22-year-old Duke product is hitting .274/.337/.482 in his pro debut, with his slugging mark ranking sixth in the New York-Penn League.
ROOKIE LEVEL GULF COAST LEAGUE RED SOX: 8-5 WIN VS. GCL ORIOLES
– First-rounder Michael Chavis went 2-for-4 with a double and a walk. In August, he’s hitting .372 (5th in the GCL) with a .430 OBP (6th in the GCL), .590 slugging mark (3rd) and 12 extra-base hits (tied for second). Chavis, who just turned 19, has performed as one of the best players in his league in his pro debut for the past month, thus balancing out a tough transition to pro ball in July and improving his overall line to .269/.347/.425.
– Luis Alexander Basabe went 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles and two walks. Basabe, who turned 18 on Tuesday, has shown intriguing flashes of both an approach and the ability to drive the ball this year, both in the DSL (where he hit .284/.408/.480) and the GCL (.248/.328/.324) with both eye-catching athleticism and the ability to grow into more strength and power.