Red Sox Prospect Report: Brian Johnson Dazzles In First Start Since Scary Incident

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It’s probably still too early in the 2017 Major League Baseball season to say anyone’s job is truly in jeopardy.

Slow starts are happening all across the game, and players deserve to be afforded more than two weeks to find their footing.

But the early-season struggles of some combined with the hot starts of prospects champing at the bit can ratchet up the pressure in a hurry. That soon could become the case in Boston, too, if Red Sox’s trends both at the major and minor league levels continue.

Here’s the latest on some of the top Red Sox prospects.

Brian Johnson (LHP, Triple-A Pawtucket)
The season is just two weeks old, but it’s already been a crazy campaign for Johnson. The 26-year-old left-hander exited his first start of the season after taking a line drive to the forehead in an obviously scary situation. Johnson thankfully was OK and even was able to take his next turn in the rotation, which came Thursday. The southpaw dazzled, striking out eight and allowing just one run over 6 2/3 innings. He’s surrendered just two earned runs with 15 strikeouts in 10 2/3 innings on the season. If he continues to pitch like this, he’s going to put pressure on some of the starters at the big league level, especially if Steven Wright has another start or two like had earlier this week.

Rafael Devers (3B, Double-A Portland)
The Red Sox are paying Pablo Sandoval a lot of money, so he’s going to receive plenty of chances to get right, and he has shown some slight improvements at the plate, especially from the left side. And it might be unfair to Devers, who’s just 20 years old, to already start speculating whether he could put pressure on Sandoval. But the Red Sox showed last season they’re not afraid to jump a player from Portland to the big leagues, as they did with Andrew Benintendi. Devers certainly looks like he’s trying to force the club’s hand in the early going. The Portland season is only six games old, but Devers has been great, tallying a home run, three doubles and six RBIs while hitting .400 (10-for-25). It’s the highest level he’s reached, and the contact rate could be an issue (five strikeouts), but his talent is undeniable, and this sort of production won’t go unnoticed.

Jay Groome (LHP, Single-A Greenville)
The 2017 season started in just about the worst possible way for Jay Groome. The 2017 first-round pick was tagged for nine earned runs in just 1 1/3 innings in his debut before exiting with what’s being described as lat soreness. It’s just one start, but that’s not what you’re looking for in that situation.

Travis Lakins (RHP, High-A Salem)
Many project Lakins, a 2016 sixth-round pick out of Ohio State, to wind up in the bullpen, as durability might be a long-term issue due to his size (6-foot-1, 180 pounds). But it’s hard to argue with his 2017 results thus far. Lakins has 17 strikeouts in just 11 1/3 innings, which is a considerable uptick (13.5 K/9 IP) over his last season at Salem (7.81). The Boston Globe points out a slight mechanical change and the advent of a cutter as big reasons for his early-season success. As is the case with everyone this time of the year, it’s a small sample size, but missing bats at that rate obviously is impressive and worth keeping an eye on in the early going.

Josh Tobias (INF, Salem)
Clay Buchholz’s first season in Philadelphia already appears to be over, but the guy he was traded for, Tobias, is just getting started. Tobias already has 13 hits at Salem — including a home run — and is hitting .371 with five RBIs.

Thumbnail photo via Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports Images

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