COCOA BEACH, FL- Lefty Brian Johnson wasn’t sharp for Cocoa Beach High School on Saturday in what turned into a 4-2 loss against Rockledge.
The 6-3, 231 Johnson is #299 in our preseason rankings for the 2009 draft after showing well in various showcase events over the summer. I had seen him at the East Coast Professional Baseball Showcase in Lakeland, Florida, where the big lefty showed an 88-90 MPH fastball with good command and very usable off-speed (curveball and change-up). His body and his delivery looked to be those of a future workhorse.
Signed with the University of Florida, scouts had him high on the follow list. About fifteen showed up to Cocoa Beach for the afternoon affair including one scouting director.
Johnson sat at 83-85 MPH in the first inning and never really got above that. His fastball came out of a high three-quarter slot and had only a mild sinking action on it. His curveball had some good spin (70-73 MPH), but it often hung and it didn’t miss bats and wouldn’t grade higher than a 35-40 right now. His change-up was rarely thrown and not nearly as convincing as it had been at Lakeland in August.
Johnson still shut down the opponent until the sixth inning, when Rockledge broke through and took their 4-2 lead. He was pulled out after the sixth and took the loss.
This was my first look at Johnson in a competitive non-showcase setting and it’s not all that unusual to see a different animal. During a showcase, it’s two or three innings of “let it all out” against strangers in the opposing lineup and on the field behind you. Also, a lot can happen during that crucial senior year; players can get better or sometimes they can go the other way and regress. Traits like competitiveness and makeup are difficult to ascertain in showcase settings. Those are all reasons why scouts will use showcases (like ours) to identify players to follow, but are careful not to decide their draft based solely on what they see at the event.
I thought I noticed some subtle mechanical differences with Johnson, namely more drift in his delivery. His arm looked a bit slower, as well. Though he’s physically strong, Johnson’s body is more blocky than sculpted. He’s a little thick in the hips and is at risk for excess weight as he ages.
I can see him throwing 88-90 MPH on another occasion because he has the size and leverage advantages to do so. I’m told that he pitched an inning in relief on Wednesday, but while there may be some fatigue, he clearly doesn’t have consistently average arm-strength quite yet. His success at Florida will depend on pitchability and command and if the stuff follows with it, he’d be a good draft after his junior year in 2012.
UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL FLORIDA RIGHTY AUSTIN HUDSON KNOCKED OUR EARLY: HITTERS IMPRESS
After Johnson’s start, I made the drive to UCF hoping to catch righthanded pitcher Austin Hudson (preseason PGX #160) against Virginia Commonwealth. Unfortunately, I got there in the fifth inning and he was already knocked out after four innings and four runs. Hudson threw mostly in the low-80s, which stunned scouts who had seen him much better in the summer and fall.
A couple of UCF hitters showed to be likely drafts, though their lack of peripheral tools will keep them from going high.
Leftfielder Chris Duffy was offered 3rd-round money by the Chicago White Sox in the ninth round out of local Cypress Creek High School, at that time as a third baseman. He’s a lefthanded hitter with a line-drive stroke and solid-average bat-speed right now. The 6-1, 210 Duffy showed me the ability to turn on a good fastball and he wasn’t bad waiting on off-speed. Defensively, he didn’t have big league prowess at third and he’s still learning left field. His arm is well-below average as is his speed, hindered by a largely bow-legged gait. While Duffy has a chance to become a big league bat, he’ll have to become playable somewhere defensively to have staying power.
Senior first baseman Kiko Vazquez was on follow lists going into 2008, but injuries kept him off the field for the first 40 games. The 6-3, 220 righthanded hitter has his body looking better than ever. He’s solid up-and-down and not overly thick anywhere. Vazquez has plus present raw power, hitting a long homerun to left field in the game prior to my arrival. His bat-speed projects to average and I think he’ll make adjustments to good off-speed. Vazquez shows to be an adequate defensive first baseman, but he’s limited to that spot at the highest levels. He was a 30th-round pick by Minnesota out of Sebring High School in 2005.
Either or both could go within the first ten rounds, but it’s not a sure thing.
Check back for my next blog as I head for “the swamp” in Gainesville to watch the University of Florida host Louisville. It will feature a group of position player prospects including two-sport phenom rightfielder Riley Cooper and centerfielder Matt Den Dekker from Florida. Louisville is highlighted by slugging third baseman Chris Dominguez and first baseman Drew Clark.