Sunday, March 25, 2012

OTF MLB Draft Peek: LHP Brian Johnson and RHP Jake Barrett

Though we are still months away, it's always a good time to be looking at potential candidates in the upcoming MLB Draft. With the college baseball season starting to gain steam, a lot of Draft and Prospect blogs and sites out there are already coming out with mock drafts. I decided to take a look at two college arms who were projected to go in the Giants slot at No. 20. They are pitchers Brian Johnson and Jake Barrett, who come from established college powerhouses Florida and Arizona State, respectively.

Brian Johnson, Left-Handed Pitcher, University of Florida

Why You Should Know About Johnson:

Through The Fence has Johnson going at No. 20 in their latest mock draft, and safe to say, Johnson is an intriguing arm who could have a lot of versatility as a prospect. For starters, Johnson is a two-way player for the Gators who also plays first base in addition to pitching. While he has produced solid numbers at the plate for the Gators over his collegiate career (he posted a .307/.381/.464 slash last season with five home runs in 192 at-bats last season and this year his slash is .283/.316/.453 with two home runs), he holds a lot more value in this draft as a pitcher. Last year, he made 15 starts and 16 appearances for the Gators and posted an 8-3 record with a 3.62 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. This season, Johnson has gotten off to a good start, as he is 4-0 with a 3.13 ERA after six starts.

Johnson's main strength as a pitcher is his control and command. Last year, he posted a K/BB ratio of 4.8 and a walk rate of 1.69. This year, his plus tools haven't missed a beat, as his K/BB ratio currently sits at four and he has only allowed seven free passes in 31.2 innings pitched. Johnson isn't a strikeout artist by any means, as his K/9 was 8.13 last year and 8.08 this year, but with his control, the strikeout numbers may be good enough for him to be a solid Major League starting pitcher.

The main weakness with Johnson though is that he has proved to be hittable in his collegiate career. Last year, he had a hits allowed per nine innings of 8.81 and this season has proved to be similar, as his H/9 rate currently sits at 8.08 (the same as his K/9). While he was able to keep the ball in the park last year (he only gave up four home runs all of last year), this year, his H/9 rate has hurt him more, as he leads the Gators pitching staff in home runs allowed with five (already one more than his entire total from last year). Granted, with the move from metal to wood bats, one can imagine that Johnson will be able to keep the ball in the park a little better as a professional. That being said, how well Johnson will be able to induce groundballs will be the key to whether or not he will be successful as a professional pitcher.

Johnson sports a three pitch arsenal with a fastball that sits in the low 90's, a changeup and a slider that projects to be a plus pitch at the next level, according to TTF writer Dan Kirby. At six-foot, four inches and 235 pounds, Johnson has a big, impressive frame, and Kirby noted that he has a great mound presence and an advanced feel for pitching. Last summer, he also gained valuable experience playing for the USA Collegiate Team, though he was mostly lauded for his performance at the plate (he did hit three home runs, including the game winner against Japan).

There are some concerns that come with Johnson as a potential pick, with the issues mostly centering on hitters ability to make contact off him and a head injury he suffered from an errant throw by catcher Mike Zunino during a game against Georgia last season. Nonetheless, with his impeccable command and versatility as a two way player, Johnson could be an intriguing pick for the Giants should he be available at the 20th slot in this year's draft.

Jake Barrett, Right-Handed Pitcher, Arizona State University

Why You Should Know About Barrett:

Selected 99th overall by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2009 draft, Barrett is a polished college arm that was projected to go in the Giants slot according to Pine Tar Press writer Ty Youngfelt. Much like Johnson, Barrett sports solid command and tools as a pitcher, and could help stock a Giants system that is thin on pitching after numerous trades (Tim Alderson, Scott Barnes, Zack Wheeler, Henry Sosa) and graduations (Madison Bumgarner, Dan Runzler).

Barrett  has solid tools as a pitcher, as he sports a fastball that sits in the 90-94 MPH range along with a curveball and splitter that have above average potential, according to MLB Draft Countdown. MLBDC was particularly high about Barrett entering this season, as they noted this in their profile on him last June:

"Toronto was so high on him back in 2009 because he had a big-league body (6’3″, 225 lbs), a good fastball (90-94 mph) and two pitches (curveball and splitter) with above-average potential...He showed great poise stepping into a very talented bullpen during his freshman year, pitching to a 3.41 ERA in 28 outings and striking out 43 batters in 29.1 innings...

This year, Barrett made the jump to the rotation and found instant success. His first start of the season saw him toss six-innings of shutout ball, giving up only three hits while striking out six. He finished the season with a 7-4 record, a 4.14 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 76 innings. He tossed one complete-game shutout against Cal late in the season....Barrett is going to be one of the most big-league ready of any of the college pitchers in the 2012 class, making him a perfect fit."

So far this season, the Sun Devils have regulated Barrett back to the bullpen, as he has taken over the role as the team's primary closer. While the change in roles certainly hasn't helped his stock, he has relished in the role, striking out 14 batters and allowing only 2 walks in 11.2 innings pitched this year. He also has two saves and is posting a 2.31 ERA after nine appearances to begin the 2012 collegiate season.

Much like Johnson, hitters have been able to make contact against Barrett at a decent rate over his amateur career. Last year, he posted a H/9 percentage of 8.88 and this year he has allowed 8 hits in his 11.2 innings of work. The high hit rates haven't hurt him as much, as he has kept the ball in the park as evidenced by his 0.36 HR/9 rate last year, and one home run this season. That being said, much like Johnson, how well he will be able to induce groundballs will be key to his development as a professional pitcher, especially since his control isn't as solid as Johnson's (he posted a BB/9 of 2.49 last year).

If he stays as a reliever this year, then I highly doubt the Giants will pick up Barrett at the 20th slot (Youngfelt made his Mock Draft in February before the college season started and I assume he thought Barrett was going to stay in the rotation). That being said, if Barrett somehow make the transition back to the rotation this year, then he could be a viable pick at the 20th slot. There is no doubt about his tools, and in limited innings of work, he can prove to be a dominant pitcher who can strike out hitters in bunches. Furthermore, at six-foot, three inches and 230 pounds, he has a big solid frame that projects well for the future. However, it's obvious stamina is an issue for him, as evidenced by his role change this year. Even if he pitches the whole year in the bullpen, Barrett could still have a future as a starting pitcher as professional, but the Giants and Barrett himself are going to have to work on his conditioning in order for him to be able to log a lot of innings as a starter over the course of a full professional season.

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