The situation: The Red Sox rotation has been in flux – to put it nicely – all season, but a late surge has the 2013 champions back in the AL East race, and they’ll call up Johnson as an immediate stop-gap while Clay Buchholz hits the disabled list.
Background: Johnson was not only one of the best pitchers on a loaded University of Florida roster, but was also one of their best hitters – and there were some teams who preferred Johnson’s bat. The Red Sox were clearly not one of those teams; taking the southpaw 31st overall in the 2012 MLB Draft. He’s routinely put up impressive pitching totals since, posting a 2.36 ERA with 301 strikeouts in his 320 innings.
Scouting report: Johnson isn’t overpowering by any means, but he misses bats because of his ability to locate four big-league pitches to all parts of the plate.
His fastball generally sits 89-92 MPH – occasionally touching 94 – and he can cut and sink the pitch with some downhill plane. He’ll throw both a cutter and a curve, with the curve being the more effective pitch thanks to its shape and depth. The cutter isn’t just a show-me pitch though, because while it may not have big break, it does have some bite as it bores into the hands of right-handed hitters. He’ll also show a quality change that offers deception via arm speed, as well as some fade, and there’s enough velocity difference to allow him to pull the string.
While you wouldn’t call Johnson’s stuff pedestrian, it certainly isn’t elite, so he needs to have quality command to succeed at the big-league level. Fortunately Johnson shows that more often than not. He repeats a very easy delivery with a consistent arm-path, and he very rarely beats himself by putting added runners on via walk. He can get in trouble when he overthrows and leaves pitches up, but for the most part, you’re looking at a guy who keeps the ball below the knees and hits his spots exceptionally well for a 24-year-old.
Immediate Big League Future: As dominant as Johnson has been in the minor leagues, it would be foolish to expect similar numbers at the big-league level; he just doesn’t have the stuff that suggests being more than a backend starter. That being said, the ability to throw strikes with all of his offerings and an advanced feel for pitching should allow him to be successful immediately, and he should be a solid – if unspectacular – member of a major-league rotation for the foreseeable future. – Chris Crawford
Fantasy Impact: Johnson is one of those prototypical low-ceiling prospects that can be of interest upon getting called up even in deeper dynasty leagues because chances are he's still available. He's lacked for buzz throughout his ascent up the minor league ladder on account of merely average stuff and the dreaded "command lefty" tag, but at a certain point production and what a guy can do starts to outweigh his limitations and what he can't do.
He's a former first-rounder, so he's certainly not without pedigree. And all he's done in his minor league career is post a great ERA with a 1.04 WHIP and eight and a half strikeouts-per-nine through 320 innings over 64 starts.
The big question for fantasy purposes is the risk of start-to-start volatility in his profile. That's true for all rookie starters, but it's especially true for rookie starters who lack a put-away pitch. Johnson's greatest assets are his command and pitchability, and that leaves little margin for error in a given start.
The upside is limited here, but as Cody Anderson has already shown this year guys who have demonstrated an ability to pitch without premium stuff in the minors are not doomed to become big-league punching bags out of the gate.
It's unclear as of now when Johnson will jump into the rotation after the break, or for that matter how long Clay Buchholz will be out. Johnson should have a solid window in which to prove his worth, however, and he's worth a modest bid in AL-only formats in the range of five to seven dollars, three to five in mixed formats, with the hope that he can provide consistent SP5 production with the ceiling of an SP4. – Wilson Karaman
- 90th percentile: 2.86 ERA, 1.06 WHIP
- 50th percentile: 3.98 ERA, 1.31 WHIP
- 10th percentile: 5.19 ERA, 1.60 WHIP
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