With Micah Johnson getting promoted the Triple-A Charlotte on Tuesday, it gives us a chance to take another look at one of the more interesting prospects in the White Sox's farm system right now.
A ninth-round pick out of the University of Indiana in 2012, Johnson finished that year as the No. 25 prospect in the organization, per Baseball America, which wasn't exactly saying much given the moribund state of the team's minor league depth during the past few years.
Johnson shot up the rankings in 2013, however as he quickly displayed above average speed, swiping 84-of-100 bags across three different stops, and finished the year as the team's No. 5 prospect, as ranked by BA.
Throughout the end of last season and during the offseason, you kept hearing about how much of a steal Johnson could end up being for the White Sox. In fact, FanGraphs said just that about him in their offseason prospect rankings:
Career Outlook: Johnson, a ninth round draft pick in 2012 out of Indiana University, could end up being a steal. As long as he keeps running he looks like a future regular either at second base or center field. If he can continue to make consistent contact and get on base at a solid clip he should profile well at the top of the lineup.
Scouts were interested to see how he'd hit after starting this season at Double-A, and he didn't disappoint, putting together a .329/.409/.462 line in 143 at-bats, including 19 walks and 27 strikeouts, leading to his promotion.
There is plenty of cause for concern, of course. Most of that is centered around the White Sox's inability to develop hitting prospects over the past decade-plus. Johnson's quick ascension gives plenty of reason for optimism, but let's not forget that one year ago he was still in Low-A Kannapolis. And while his continuous promotions mean the organization is optimistic he'll be ready to contribute at the Major League level sooner than later, again, the history of the White Sox making these decisions isn't exactly promising.
It's tough to look at Johnson and not think at least a little bit about Carlos Sanchez, another middle-infield prospect who has shown some promise despite never being a top prospect. Unlike Johnson, Sanchez has been in the team's farm system for some time after they signed him as a 17 year old out of Venezuela in 2009. Like Johnson, however, Sanchez tore up Double-A pitching after arriving at that level in 2012 and was quickly ushered up to Triple-A Charlotte, where he has since stagnated. In fact, Sanchez played just 11 more games at Double-A than Johnson has between his late-season promotion in 2013 and this season.
Sanchez still has a bit of promise, and given the amount of years he's spent in the organization it's hard to believe he's actually still younger than Johnson, but he didn't appear on anyone's Top Prospect list prior to 2014 after jumping as high as No. 3 in the White Sox's system after his 2012 in Birmingham. For what it's worth, he's off to a decent start this year and is currently hitting .286/.364/.344 in 131 at-bats in Charlotte.
But back to Johnson. His speed is obviously his top tool although there is some question as to whether he will stick at second base long term or if he's destined for center field or even third base, as some have suggested. As you know, the White Sox currently employ Gordon Beckham at second (although he may not be on the roster beyond the end of the 2014 season, if that), and it's still too early to give up on Marcus Semien despite his early-season struggles. The other two positions I mentioned have been earmarked for Matt Davidson and Adam Eaton.
Positional issues are hardly a problem, of course. If you have players ready to contribute at the Major League level, you find a place to put them. So it's not outside of the realm of possibilities that the White Sox find a place for Johnson — if/when he's ready — even if second base doesn't work out.
The question with Johnson has been, and will continue to be if he will be able to continue to hit well enough to stay on the field as he ascends through the system. While the White Sox think he passed the test at Double-A, it would have been nice to see him do so for more than 164 at-bats before moving on to Charlotte.
Our friends at FutureSox.com saw Johnson in person last week during one of his last game's at Double-A and, for what it's worth, came away impressed with his approach at the plate. That will be the key for him going forward. If he can continue to not look overwhelmed during his stint in Triple-A, it's not out of the realm of possibilities that he's in a White Sox uniform sooner than later, regardless of the position.
But there's still plenty of work to be done until we start counting on him as a sure-fire contributor at the Major League level.
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