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2015 Red Sox top prospect voting #7: Brian Johnson's big jump

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After a big season in Portland, Brian Johnson is enjoying a different sort of company from last year.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Here's where Brian Johnson slotted into this list last year:

15. Drake Britton, LHP
16. Brian Johnson, LHP
17. Bryce Brentz, OF

The past year hasn't done much for the stock of either Drake Britton or Bryce Brentz, but trust me when I say that they weren't starting all that high, either. No, Brian Johnson was just flying well under the radar. As a first-round pick who didn't scream high ceiling, Johnson was put behind the hype eight-ball in 2013 by being assigned to the low-level Greenville Drive and Salem Red Sox. As such, even a 2.54 ERA on the year failed to excite, particularly with a DL stint mixed in.

For Johnson, 2014 saw two developments. First, a reduced walk rate, which was one of the legitimate concerns keeping his stock down before the season began. Johnson had, after all, been giving up 3.7 free passes per nine innings. Not exactly a great place to be, particularly compared to the 2.4 he managed in 2014.

Perhaps even more important, however, was the fact that after a brief stay in Salem, Johnson was finally allowed to face age-appropriate competition, making the jump to Double-A at 23. That's still not exactly young for the Eastern League (below the mean, but that's skewed by a lot of older non-prospects), but if Johnson could hold his own, he'd at least have caught up.

Johnson didn't hold his own, though. He dominated. His first month in Portland saw him hold opponents to a .203 average, producing a 2.04 ERA. In his second month, he struck out 22 batters and walked just six in 24 innings, dropping that ERA down to 1.12. July with it's 2.76 ERA and 27 strikeouts to 11 walks was his worst month, and he finished things up with this series of five starts:

IP ER H BB K
2014 - 08 - 05 8.0 0 3 0 5
2014 - 08 - 12 6.0 1 4 2 5
2014 - 08 - 23 7.0 1 1 2 10
2014 - 08 - 28 5.0 0 2 0 1
2014 - 09 - 03 7.0 2 6 1 8

Henry Owens has drawn all the headlines, and even Eduardo Rodriguez has overshadowed him since his entry into the system. But Brian Johnson was the one who took home Pitcher of the Year honors for the system, and deservedly so.

He's still not the most exciting arm in the world, but he's a strike thrower with the precision needed to avoid getting unduly punished for it. He won't win Cy Young awards, but he won't end up a Webster-style train wreck and isn't likely to end up in a bullpen role either. Given the way salaries are going, that makes him a $10+ million player for a fraction of the price. Valuable to the Red Sox as either a starter, or a trade chip.

Here's Brian Johnson's new place on the list:

  1. Blake Swihart, C
  2. Henry Owens, LHP
  3. Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP
  4. Rafael Devers, 3B
  5. Manuel Margot, OF
  6. Brian Johnson, LHP