The SF Giants have a lot of pitching prospects off to strong starts, but one lesser-known outfield prospect is off to a surprising start with Triple-A.
SF Giants: Center Field Prospect off to a Hot Start
Bryce Johnson is not the name fans often hear about when it comes to outfield prospects in the Giants system, but he is becoming a name to watch.
San Francisco originally drafted Johnson in the sixth round of the 2017 draft out of Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. Despite being a college prospect, the 25-year-old has made a gradual ascent up the minor league ranks, including two stops at Single-A.
In four minor league seasons, the switch-hitter has slashed .273/.361/.361 line with 191 runs scored, 52 doubles, eight home runs, and 105 RBI. This comes with a solid 10.6 percent walk rate against a 22.8 percent strikeout rate, so he has good plate discipline. Furthermore, Johnson plays the role of a table-setter as he has swiped 89 bags in 118 opportunities. However, his lack of power left a bit to be desired.
Nevertheless, the Giants liked his progress and rewarded him with an aggressive promotion to Triple-A to start the year. This decision has paid dividends for the Sacramento River Cats’ offense.
Johnson has slashed .358/.476/.537 with 20 runs scored, six doubles, two home runs, and ten RBI across 82 plate appearances. He has been perfect on the bases with seven stolen bags in as many opportunities. On top of this, he has posted a 15.9 percent walk rate, so the Sam Houston State University product has been doing the job of a leadoff hitter by working counts and getting on base.
Interestingly, Johnson has shown much more power than in the past, which is not uncommon for the hitter-friendly confines of Triple-A West, but a change in swing mechanics may be the cause as Eric Loganhagen of Fangraphs noted earlier this month:
"“While the hitting environment in Las Vegas (where Sacramento spent their first six games) likely aided Johnson’s incredible start to the year (.684/.727/1.263 with five multi-hit games in six days), his swing is clearly different now than it was in 2019, so maybe he will actually hit for some more power now. His stride is quite a bit longer now than it was when we last saw him and the bigger move forward has made his swing a little more athletic. Johnson’s back foot is coming off the ground close to the time of contact, not something you’d see with his last swing’s more conservative footwork…”"
In a short timespan, Johnson has seen his stock rise considerably with a strong debut in Triple-A. Some fans might be wondering when the fleet-footed outfielder will be roaming Oracle Park, but it likely will not be in 2021.
The SF Giants have a crowded outfield and they will want to exhaust all other options before adding another outfielder to the 40-man roster. However, Johnson is eligible for the Rule 5 draft in December, so he could be a candidate to be added to the 40-man roster in the offseason. With a profile that includes speed, plate discipline, and good outfield defense, he has the traits to become a quality role player.