- Full name Christopher Brian Johnson
- Born 12/07/1990 in Lakeland, FL
- Profile Ht.: 6'3" / Wt.: 250 / Bats: L / Throws: L
- School Florida
- Debut 07/21/2015
Drafted in the 1st round (31st overall) by the Boston Red Sox in 2012 (signed for $1,575,000).
View Draft ReportJohnson was a latecoming member of the 2009 draft's Top 200 Prospects list, emerging with a strong showing in Sebring, Fla., at the state's high school all-star game. He went to Florida instead of signing and quickly emerged as one of the nation's top two-way players. He led USA Baseball's College National Team with three home runs last summer and draws some interest as a power-hitting first baseman. He's a fairly slow-twitch athlete, though, and profiles better as a durable, big bodied fourth starter. Johnson pitches off an average fastball in the 88-91 mph range, complemented by a slider, curveball and changeup. He throws all four pitches for strikes, with just 42 career walks in his first 219 college innings, and he hides the ball well in his delivery. He gets more swings and misses with his fastball than his velocity and fastball life would seem to merit. Johnson's curveball has its moments as his best secondary pitch, though he doesn't throw it with consistent power. Johnson has good body control despite his modest athleticism and soft body. He's considered a safe, low-upside pick, with some hope that his stuff will become firmer as he focuses 100 percent on pitching.
Organization Prospect Rankings
Once seemingly on the cusp of claiming a long-term spot in Boston's rotation, Johnson has endured a challenging three-year span in which he's been sidelined both while seeking treatment for anxiety and dealt with numerous injuries and that have led to a steady drop in his velocity and power. A pitcher who worked at 88-92 mph in 2014, Johnson now typically sits at 87-89 mph while occasionally cracking 90-91 mph. Yet while that velocity gives him little margin for error, he understands how to mix with his fastball, still above-average to plus curveball, changeup, and slider, with pitchability that allowed the Sox to go 5-0 in his five big league spot starts in 2017. It's possible that Johnson could still see an uptick in velocity if he emphasizes explosiveness rather than a rocking-chair rhythm to his delivery, and Sox officials are hopeful that his planned exposure to the bullpen in spring training could aid that process. Johnson's feel for pitching is good enough that even a small bump in the power of his stuff could allow him to realize his ceiling as a back-of-the-rotation starter or multi-innings reliever.
The 31st overall pick in the 2012 draft, Johnson reached the majors in 2015 but has had his progression interrupted by multiple ill-timed occurrences. He took a line drive to the face in his 2012 pro debut and then suffered elbow nerve irritation that ended his 2015 season. Johnson struggled early in 2016 with his normally advanced command--22 walks in 33 innings--suggesting more trouble with his elbow. But the lefthander's concerns ran deeper than his mound struggles. Johnson left Triple-A Pawtucket in May to seek treatment for anxiety. After nearly two months in Fort Myers, Fla., and on a rehab assignment, he returned to Triple-A. His control and ability to mix four pitches--fastball, curveball, changeup and cutter--returned, though his stuff was diminished from his dominant 2014 form. His fastball sat in the mid-80s in 2016 rather than his 89-91 mph peak, and his curveball--once a plus pitch--lost bite. Still, the fact Johnson was back on the mound and throwing strikes represented an accomplishment. If his arm strength returns in 2017, he could quickly emerge as a big league depth option.
After a breakout 2014, Johnson cruised through the first half of 2015 at Triple-A Pawtucket, looking like a major league-ready starter. But when the Red Sox called him up, they handled his debut in puzzling fashion. Johnson's initial start on July 21 came after a 15-day layoff, and he allowed four runs in 41?3 innings. Sent back down, he suffered nerve irritation in his elbow two starts later, and it ended his season and cost him a post-trade deadline opportunity in the big league rotation. Johnson is a pitcher in every sense of the word. While he features a swing-and-miss curveball, his trademark is the ability to unbalance hitters and induce bad contact by changing speeds and locating his four-pitch mix. He keeps batters on the defensive with an aggressive pace that echoes Mark Buehrle. Johnson sat mostly at 88-89 mph in 2015, which was down from 90-91 in 2014 and perhaps a sign that he was pitching through elbow discomfort prior to his shutdown. At his best, he adds and subtracts from the high 80s to the low 90s. While Johnson's injury virtually guaranteed that he will open 2016 back at Pawtucket, he represents a first-wave depth option. He resumed throwing in 2015 instructional league and is expected to be healthy for 2016. Evaluators are nearly unanimous that he can start in the big leagues, with a ceiling as a No. 4 or 5 starter.
A two-way standout in college, Johnson's transition to pro ball was hindered by a liner off the face in his 2012 pro debut that resulted in a disjointed offseason and an equally disjointed 2013 season that was stunted by shoulder tendinitis. With a healthy offseason, however, Johnson looked like a big leaguer virtually every time he took the mound, running off an impressive string of two or fewer earned runs in 23 of his last 24 starts between three levels (he finished the year with a Triple-A playoff start). Johnson has a diverse arsenal of four average or better pitches and knows how to use it to considerable effect, working at a blistering pace while changing speeds and locations in a fashion sometimes evocative of Mark Buehrle. Johnson sits at 88-92 mph but will add (he can reach back for 94) and subtract to keep hitters off-balance. He doesn't have a single overpowering swing-andmiss pitch, but his execution is superb and his control has improved to a tick above-average. Though Johnson started 2014 in high Class A, his sprint across three levels could continue into 2015. He's expected to open in Pawtucket, but if the need arises, his polish suggests he could be a consideration for the big leagues in early 2015.
Drafted 31st overall in 2012 and signed for $1.575 million, Johnson's pro debut season came to a terrifying halt when he was struck in the face by a line drive. Unable to eat solid food for months, he lost significant weight and strength, resulting in unimpressive stuff and performance to begin the 2013 season at low Class A Greenville. The Red Sox shut Johnson down for six weeks with shoulder tendinitis, and when he returned, so did his stuff. He showed the ability to throw a low-90s fastball down in the zone, while getting swings and misses with a solid curveball (better than what Boston saw from him as an amateur) and changeup. In his final eight starts at Greenville and high Class A Salem, Johnson logged a 1.50 ERA with 38 strikeouts in 42 innings. With a healthy offseason, he should come to camp in 2014 with the four-pitch mix--fastball, curve, changeup and cutter/slider--he showed at Florida, and he has the pitchability to suggest a No. 5 starter floor and a mid-rotation ceiling. Though he'll open in Salem after spending almost all of 2013 in Greenville, Johnson's ability to throw strikes could allow him to move quickly.
A two-way star at Florida, Johnson won 22 games and hit 15 homers while leading the Gators to three straight College World Series appearances from 2010-12. Though he offers potential as a lefthanded hitter, most teams preferred him on the mound. That includes the Red Sox, who drafted him 31st overall in June and signed him for $1.575 million. Johnson stands out more for his ability to command four pitches than his pure stuff, though he may add velocity now that he's concentrating on pitching full-time. He usually pitched at 88-91 mph with his fastball in college, but he worked at 92-93 mph during brief outings at short-season Lowell and touched 98 when he faced former Florida State rival Jayce Boyd. Johnson hides the ball well with his delivery, so his fastball gets more swings and misses than might be expected. He also has good feel for both a curveball and a slider, changing speeds easily with them. His changeup helps him keep righthanders at bay. While he doesn't have the most athletic body, he controls it well and repeats his delivery. Johnson earned a start in the annual Futures at Fenway event in Boston in mid-August, only to get struck in the face by a line drive off the bat of the leadoff hitter. The shot broke multiple bones in his face and ended his first pro summer. He returned to work out but didn't see any game action during instructional league. Assuming there are no lasting effects from the injury, he has the polish to move faster than most Red Sox pitching prospects. Johnson will open 2013 at one of the club's Class A affiliates. He has a ceiling as a durable No. 3 starter.
Johnson was a latecoming member of the 2009 draft's Top 200 Prospects list, emerging with a strong showing in Sebring, Fla., at the state's high school all-star game. He went to Florida instead of signing and quickly emerged as one of the nation's top two-way players. He led USA Baseball's College National Team with three home runs last summer and draws some interest as a power-hitting first baseman. He's a fairly slow-twitch athlete, though, and profiles better as a durable, big bodied fourth starter. Johnson pitches off an average fastball in the 88-91 mph range, complemented by a slider, curveball and changeup. He throws all four pitches for strikes, with just 42 career walks in his first 219 college innings, and he hides the ball well in his delivery. He gets more swings and misses with his fastball than his velocity and fastball life would seem to merit. Johnson's curveball has its moments as his best secondary pitch, though he doesn't throw it with consistent power. Johnson has good body control despite his modest athleticism and soft body. He's considered a safe, low-upside pick, with some hope that his stuff will become firmer as he focuses 100 percent on pitching.
Minor League Top Prospects
Though Johnson may not have the power arsenal to match other IL pitching prospects, he does possess what many managers consider the most important quality in a young hurler: command. Johnson has a four-pitch repertoire that he deploys with advanced feel, for he locates each offering for strikes on a consistent basis. Johnson sets it all up with an 88-91 mph fastball that he locates to either side of the plate and adds and subtracts from as needed to keep hitters off balance. He picks from a trio of secondary pitches to complement his fastball: a 12-to-6 curveball featuring depth and tight spin, a slider with sharp downward bite and a changeup. Graded individually, none of his pitches grade as plus, but Johnson attacks hitters aggressively and, as one scout noted, moves the ball well within the strike zone with the ability to sink the ball and change speeds. "Everything (he throws) is in the strike zone," Buffalo manager Gary Allenson said. "Everything is down at the knees. I really liked him."
Johnson missed time in 2012 after taking a line drive off of his face, and then shoulder tendinitis took six weeks out of his 2013 campaign, but he quickly made up for lost development this year by breezing through the high Class A Carolina League and then dominating the EL with a league-best 1.75 ERA over 20 starts. He finished second to teammate Henry Owens in the league's pitcher of the year balloting. Johnson's arsenal isn't overpowering, but he gets outs with guile, supreme pitchability and command of three pitches. His fastball, which sits between 87-92 mph, features late sink, and he does an excellent job of keeping it low in the zone. He couples the pitch with a cutter that he works into the game in the later innings and a curveball in the mid-70s with three-quarter break and potential to be above-average. Johnson also offers a changeup in the low 80s with sink and the potential to be solid-average in the future. He has a clean, repeatable delivery, with which he attacks the strike zone. He walked just 2.4 batters per nine innings at two stops this season.