Left-hander Brian Johnson, in his Triple-A debut on Wednesday, gave up no more than two earned runs for the 23rd time in 24 starts. (365DigitalPhotography.com/Portland Sea Dogs)

Red Sox minor league roundup: Brian Johnson's big league future draws closer

September 10, 2014 - 8:30 pm

A brief look at the one game in the Red Sox minor league system on Wednesday: TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 4-3 LOSS (11 INNINGS) VS. DURHAM (RAYS); TIED IN BEST-OF-FIVE GOVERNOR'S CUP FINALS, 1-1 (BOX) It was a year-end nod to a season of startling, consistent excellence. With Double-A Portland eliminated from the postseason, the quality of execution that left-hander Brian Johnson had shown virtually every time he took the mound this year suggested there wasn't a compelling reason *not* to promote him to Triple-A Pawtucket for one last start in the Governor's Cup Finals. Johnson showed the kind of sharp execution that suggested not only why he earned the opportunity in Triple-A, but why he has a chance to get to the big leagues quickly, and why he could leapfrog other Red Sox starting pitching prospects like Anthony Ranaudo and Brandon Workman and Matt Barnes and even Henry Owens to secure a place in the big league rotation. Johnson pitches. He employs a wide array of pitches -- fastball, curve (a putaway pitch that he executes to both sides of the plate in a fashion that elicits bad contact and swings and misses), slider, changeup -- in a fashion that permits him to attack both sides of the plate, permitting him to compete against both right-handed and left-handed hitters. He shows an advanced ability to alter the shape and speed of his offerings in unpredictable sequences in a fashion that permits him to disrupt hitters' timing. Because his fastball mostly runs from 88-92 mph, when he misses his spot, he can be vulnerable to loud contact (as when he permitted a line-drive two-run homer to left-center on Wednesday); that pedestrian velocity also limits his potential ceiling. But the mistakes proved rare enough this year to paint a picture of a pitcher who understands his craft in a fashion that could permit him success in the near-term. Johnson has one start in Triple-A in which he logged six innings while allowing two runs on four hits while walking three and striking out seven. But next spring, he will have a chance to assert himself in big league camp. In outing after outing this year, he showed the ability to keep the game under control, permitting two or fewer earned runs in 23 of his final 24 starts. In 156 2/3 innings between the regular season and playoffs, he punched out 147 and walked 43. Opponents in High-A (5 starts), Double-A (21 starts) and Triple-A (1 start) rarely made sound contact against him, as they were kept off balance by his ability to mix and command. He looks poised to contribute in the big leagues, a pitcher for who looks like as good a bet to be a longtime contributor to a big league rotation as anyone in the system. While his ceiling might be that of a No. 3 starter in the big leagues, his floor isn't too far below that, as he looks like at least a solid No. 4 or 5 starter who seems likely to be a name of note for the team by the first half of 2015. -- Rusney Castillo continued to show an aggressive approach, jumping on a first-pitch fastball to lead off the bottom of the first inning and lining it to left for a single, and with a chance to win the game with a runner on third and one out in the bottom of the ninth, he popped up to second on another first pitch. But he also displayed an ability to stay off of pitches off both sides of the plate, working some deeper counts, including a walk, as part of a 1-for-4 day. In his first competitive game action in roughly 18 months, Castillo is now 8-for-27 (.296) with three walks and four strikeouts over his eight minor league games. For the second straight game, he played nine innings in center. -- Corey Brown launched a two-run homer and smoked a double as part of a 3-for-5 night. It was his second straight multi-hit playoff game that included a homer. -- Travis Shaw is no longer steamrolling through the postseason. Though he had long at-bats, he went 0-for-5 with four strikeouts while stranding five runners. He did, however, have two at-bats of nine pitches and one of 10 pitches, seeing a total of 35 pitches in the game.