Position: Right-handed Pitcher
The Tigers selected Johnson in the 34th round of the 2006 draft as a potential draft-and-follow choice. The organization tracked him closely at Butler Community College last spring, and determined he was worth taking a run at given his future potential. While at Butler CC, Johnson amassed an 8-3 (13-5 for his career) record in 12 starts, notching 57 strikeouts in 58-1/3 innings. Towards the end of the season, Johnson was named the NJCAA Division I Pitcher of the Week on the heels of his seven-inning no hitter against rival Pratt Community College. His fine late season performance helped lead the Grizzlies to the Kansas Jayhawk West title.
After signing, Brandon was assigned to the Gulf Coast League Tigers where he jumped right into the team's rotation. After two hard-luck losses in June, Johnson bounced back to post a 3-1 mark and 1.86 ERA in July; taking home TigsTown's Pitcher of the Month Award in the process. Johnson's success with the GCL Tigers earned him a late season promotion to Oneonta where he appeared in three games for the O-Tigers.
Johnson fits the prototype of the projectable pitcher in today's game. He has a big, long frame that gives visions of plenty of projection down the line. His mechanics are generally smooth and consistent, though they can get out of whack from time to time as he continues to mature and get used to his body in space.
His fastball sits in the 88-90 range, but dipped to the mid-80s as the summer wore on and he began to tire. His performance dipped as he lost the zip on his fastball and in-game stamina, though that should improve as he matures physically and continues to work within the confines of a professional training routine. Johnson doesn't generate much movement on his fastball, leaving him prone to being hit easily. He struggles to keep his heater low in the zone when working from the stretch, and must improve in this area if he is to maintain his early success at higher levels.
Brandon also mixes in a slider and change-up. His slider has shown promise as an above-average offering, and he can generate good, late movement when he keeps his elbow up. He has yet to master the ability to work the pitch from corner to corner, at the knees, but the expectation within the organization is that this should come along with experience. Johnson's change-up lags behind his other two offerings, and he has yet to show any significant feel for the softer offering.
An intelligent guy, Johnson has an aptitude for pitching and he understands how to set hitters up in order to put himself in the driver's seat during each at-bat. He works hard at his craft and has shown the ability and willingness to take to coaching. Johnson's change-up must improve if he is to maintain in the rotation long term. Right now he profiles more as a reliever, and he could develop into a nice late inning option if his fastball gains the velocity that many scouts and coaches believe it will.
Performance Level Team W-L ERA G GS SV SO BB IP AVG R
Johnson wore down badly as the summer progressed and he will have to work hard on his conditioning if he is to adapt to the increased rigors of the professional game. After a long spring and summer between Butler CC and the pro ranks, Johnson will be watched closely for signs of fatigue in 2008.
After struggling in his brief stint at Oneonta to end the 2007 season, it is likely that Johnson will head back to Oneonta for another tour. The Tigers have been patient with draft-and-follow selections in the past, and I don't expect anything to be different this time around.
Johnson has the rough outline of a nice mid-rotation starter, but he profiles better in the bullpen long term. Given the organization's propensity to stockpile the minor league ranks with quality pitching, Johnson will have to distinguish himself quickly to avoid being lost in the shuffle and pushed to a bullpen role at an early juncture of his career.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.