Greenville Drive update: Brian Johnson, Austin Maddox, Cody Kukuk

USA TODAY Sports

Three dissimilar pitchers with similar problems at Boston's lowest full-season level.

Brian Johnson, LHP

Year Age Tm Lg Lev ERA GS IP BF WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2013 22 Greenville SALL A 2.18 5 20.2 90 1.306 7.0 0.9 4.8 7.4 1.55
2 Seasons 1.71 9 26.1 109 1.139 6.2 0.7 4.1 7.2 1.75
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/14/2013.

Johnson's strikeout-to-walk ratio is a bit surprising, given he was considered a polished college arm when the Red Sox drafted him, but he's managed to work through those troubles and produce quality results anyway, at least for now. He's had more ground outs than air outs, and that's helped things since those balls in play haven't been finding holes. He'll have to cut down on the walks before they do, though.

Part of the issue for Johnson might be that the southpaw has barely faced his fellow lefties. He's done well against right-handers to this point, mostly, but has walked 10 against 15 strikeouts -- considering he has just 11 walks on the season, that's a pretty noticeable total. That, and, you know, he has just over 25 innings as a professional to his name, and it's mid-May right now. Nothing to worry about just yet, but his walk rate does merit attention, as trouble corralling that could lengthen his time in the minors.

*****

Austin Maddox, RHP

Year Age Tm Lg Lev ERA G IP BF WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2013 22 Greenville SALL A 8.28 7 25.0 123 1.840 13.3 1.4 3.2 9.0 2.78
2 Seasons 6.55 11 33.0 153 1.636 11.7 1.1 3.0 9.0 3.00
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/14/2013.

Maddox is having the opposite problem, where his strikeouts and walks look fine, but the rest is horrendous. He's given up four homes already, and hits are falling everywhere as his 13.3 hits per nine and .393 batting average on balls in play can attest. While part of this is surely on the Low-A defense of Greenville -- hey, they're there to learn, you know -- much of it can also safely be placed at the feet of Maddox himself. He's inducing plenty of ground outs, throwing a high volume of strikes, and seems to be hit not just often but hard. He'll have to work on not just throwing strikes, but throwing quality strikes, before the hit rates and ERA start to shrink.

It's not a huge surprise that this is the case, considering Maddox threw all of eight innings in the Rookie and short-season leagues last year before jumping from essentially two-way player in college to full-time professional pitcher in Low-A. What's more important than his current struggles is whether or not he can learn from them and apply that new knowledge to his game.

*****

Cody Kukuk, LHP

Year Age Tm Lg Lev ERA GS IP BF WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2013 20 Greenville SALL A 3.99 7 29.1 124 1.295 5.2 0.3 6.4 7.7 1.19
2 Seasons 3.20 7 39.1 164 1.119 4.6 0.2 5.5 9.4 1.71
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/14/2013.

Kukuk is limiting hits and homers, and it's keeping his ERA afloat, but you do have to wonder what things would look like with just a couple more base knocks, considering he's walking nearly as many as he's whiffing. This isn't from any one appearance, either, as Kukuk has bounced between quality and despair seemingly from start to start to begin 2013. Of his seven starts, four have featured at least three walks, and he handed out six free passes in four innings back on May 8.

Notice Kukuk is just 20 years old, though, and had tossed just 10 innings in the pros before being thrust into Low-A, and realize you can cut him some slack. He's learning on the job in a league where he's nearly two years younger than your average pitcher. Granted, those arms aren't all prospects, but he's two years younger than the two college arms that are prospects that you've already read about today, and with roughly the same experience in the pros: he can be forgiven for some early season issues. The thing to watch is whether they remain early season issues: can he take steps forward by year's end that make him an intriguing 2014 arm, sort of like the process Henry Owens has already gone through? Not to say Kukuk and Owens are the same kind of prospect, but the situation is similar enough to merit mention.

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