Showing posts with label Micah Johnson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Micah Johnson. Show all posts

Thursday, May 14, 2015

White Sox option Micah Johnson to Triple-A Charlotte

The White Sox on Thursday optioned second baseman Micah Johnson to Triple-A Charlotte.

Johnson, who was hitting .270 with no home runs and three RBIs in 27 games, has been the weakest defensive link on a Sox team that has struggled to catch the ball.

The Sox are expected to recall second baseman Carlos Sanchez before Friday's game against the Oakland A's. Sanchez was hitting .344 with two home runs and 17 RBIs in 29 games at Charlotte.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Three changes the White Sox could make today that wouldn't cost a thing

Last night, we highlighted the poor defense the White Sox played in the first inning behind starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija. Pitiful glove work sadly has become the norm and not the exception for this Chicago team through the first 29 games of the season.

If you've been watching, you already know that, so I won't pain you with further examples of the problem.

Rather, I'd like to present three changes the Sox could make today that would improve the team and not cost a thing. Note that none of these suggestions involve firing any of the organization men in the dugout.
Carlos Sanchez

  • 2. Move Carlos Rodon permanently into the rotation. Hector Noesi is a two-pitch pitcher. Put him in the bullpen where he belongs.
  • 3. Have Jose Abreu and Adam LaRoche flip roles. LaRoche becomes the primary first baseman. Abreu becomes the designated hitter most days.

I've identified three major problems with this team over the course of this 12-17 start. One of them is the catching situation. Unfortunately, there are no internal solutions, other than crossing your fingers and hoping Tyler Flowers and Geovany Soto play better.

The other two problems are very correctable with the solutions already available in house. One of the two is the back of the starting rotation. It's just not working out with Noesi, who hasn't won a start since Aug. 27, 2014. Rodon is ready and able, so let him pitch. Yes, he will have his ups and downs as all young players do, but I don't think having him pitch mop-up duty in the bullpen helps his development, nor does it help the Sox win games. Putting Rodon in the rotation allows him to not only develop his pitches, it will allow him to impact winning and losing. Based on what I've seen from Rodon, he will help the Sox more than he hurts them.

The biggest flaw on this team -- and it's a fatal one if it doesn't get addressed soon -- is the infield defense. The fan base is howling. They want manager Robin Ventura fired on the grounds that he doesn't emphasize fundamentals enough, and that he doesn't hold players accountable for their poor defense.

But let's take a step back and make an honest assessment of this infield: Abreu at first base, Johnson at second base, Alexei Ramirez at shortstop, and Conor Gillaspie at third base.

I'm sorry, but three of those four men are poor defensive players. All but Ramirez, who will soon turn 34 and is starting to show some regression, are subpar with the glove. People preach about accountability, but Ventura could show these guys the Tom Emanski instructional videos and drill them on fundamentals all day and they still wouldn't be a good defensive infield.

The good news is potential solutions exist, if the Sox would be willing to give them a try. Sanchez is a good fielding second baseman, and he's hitting .369/.394/.500 in Charlotte. Why isn't he in Chicago?

LaRoche is a top-notch fielder, yet the Sox are using him as their primary DH. Why? Team brass probably has a reason. I just don't know what it is.

Make LaRoche-Sanchez-Ramirez-Gillaspie your infield, and all of sudden your defense goes from pitiful to adequate, if not slightly above average. On days Gordon Beckham plays third base in place of Gillaspie, that infield is above average defensively.

Why won't the Sox try it? The organization has an annoying habit of ignoring defense when it comes to lineup and roster decisions. With the Sox, it's offense, offense, offense. Young players are promoted in the minor leagues based upon what they do offensively. Johnson is here because he's perceived as being ready for the big leagues offensively. His slow hands and poor footwork defensively are completely ignored, because the Sox are forever searching for that offensive upside.

It's backfiring, and they are too obstinate to make a change. They ought to reconsider before the season swirls completely down the drain.

Miserable first inning typical of White Sox malaise

This isn't a newsflash, but the White Sox stink on the road.

Sure, they had a nice 4-2 homestand, taking two out of three from both the Detroit Tigers and the Cincinnati Reds, but it's naive to think the Sox's early-season struggles are over until they can resemble a major league team while playing away from the comfortable environs of U.S. Cellular Field.

The Sox fell to 2-12 on the road Monday with a 10-7 loss to the NL Central cellar-dwelling Milwaukee Brewers, and the South Siders wasted no time reminding fans just how bad a team they are. The first inning of this game was disgraceful.  Let's take a moment to review the sad timeline:
  • Milwaukee leadoff hitter Gerardo Parra hit a grounder toward second baseman Micah Johnson, whose lame attempt to backhand the ball was a failure. The ball deflected off Johnson's glove for a "single." The play should have been made. It was not.
  • Parra successfully stole second base, and catcher Geovany Soto's throw was nowhere near the bag. Parra had a good enough jump that he probably would have been safe regardless, but Soto still looked like a fool with his lame toss.
  • Ryan Braun, the second Milwaukee hitter of the game, hit a weak grounder to shortstop that Alexei Ramirez kicked for an error. The play should have been made. It was not. Runners on first and third, no outs.
  • Adam Lind, the third Milwaukee hitter of the game, hit what should have been a double-play ball to Johnson, who was too slow to field it and too slow to get the ball to Ramirez. The Sox did force Braun out at second base, but Lind was needlessly safe at first. The play should have been made. It was not.
  • Sox pitcher Jeff Samardzija hangs a slider to Milwaukee cleanup hitter Carlos Gomez, who homers to put the Brewers up 3-0.
Amazing, isn't it? Four batters into the first inning, and the Sox had already made a handful of glaring miscues. Is it any wonder this team is 12-17?

Samardzija eventually dug the team a 6-0 hole, and to the Sox's credit, they did battle back against inferior Milwaukee pitching to tie the game at 7-7 in the eighth inning.

Alas, reliever Zach Duke had his first bad outing of the year. He gave up three runs, including home runs by Elian Herrera and Khris Davis, in the bottom of the eighth inning. That Milwaukee rally sealed the Sox's fate. It was a fate they deserved after another night on the road of pitiful defense and subpar starting pitching.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

White Sox stun Tigers with improbable comeback

So far, so good for the White Sox in their three-game set with the Detroit Tigers. The South Siders have taken the first two games, and they prevailed, 7-6, in dramatic fashion Wednesday night at U.S. Cellular Field.

Detroit appeared to be cruising toward victory, up 6-3 in the eighth inning. Heck, the Sox had two outs and nobody on in the bottom of that eighth inning, but six straight hits off Tigers reliever Joba Chamberlain turned the game around.

Micah Johnson and Adam Eaton hit back-to-back singles to set the table for Melky Cabrera, who couldn't have picked a better time to hit his first home run in a Sox uniform. Cabrera turned on a 2-1 slider from Chamberlain, knocking it over the right-field wall for a three-run blast that tied the game at 6.

Surprisingly, Detroit didn't seem inclined to remove the rattled Chamberlain from the mound. The rally started anew with a single by Jose Abreu, who advanced to third on a single by Adam LaRoche. That set the table for Avisail Garcia, who put himself in an 0-2 hole by swinging wildly at a couple of Chamberlain sliders. But after a couple foul balls and two pitches out of the zone, Garcia found a 2-2 slider to his liking and lined it into into center field for an RBI single that gave the Sox a 7-6 lead.

Garcia also played a key role in protecting that lead in the top of the ninth inning.

With one out, Sox closer David Robertson gave up a single to Nick Castellanos. James McCann followed with another single to right, and pinch runner Andrew Romine scampered from first to third. Garcia fired the ball in quickly to try to get Romine at third, which wasn't going to happen, but Garcia hit the cutoff man, shortstop Alexei Ramirez, who cut the throw and fired to first to get McCann, who had rounded the bag too aggressively. 

After Abreu put the tag on McCann, the tying run was still on third in the person of Romine, but two were out. Robertson retired Jose Iglesias on a routine grounder to Johnson to secure the win and his fifth save in as many opportunities.

With the win, the Sox (10-14) are still five games behind Detroit (17-11) in the AL Central, but hey, it's better than being seven games back -- as the Sox were when this series began.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Jose Abreu says White Sox need to play better, then White Sox beat Indians

It would be meathead-ish to say the White Sox's 6-0 win over the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday afternoon had anything to do with first baseman Jose Abreu's pregame comments.

Nevertheless, it was nice to hear the best player on the team speak up and acknowledge it hasn't been going well for the Sox in the early going, and that things need to improve soon.

"We have to be more a unit, like a team -- the players, the coaches, everybody. Because we need to start playing well … better," said Abreu through interpreter and White Sox Spanish-language broadcaster Billy Russo, according to an article on

Abreu's comments came after the Sox hadn't done much offensively the first two games of the series against Cleveland, especially early in games. In Monday's opener, they rallied to win, 4-3, with four runs in the bottom of the ninth inning. On Tuesday, they managed to get the tying run to the plate in the eighth inning, but no comeback was forthcoming in a 6-2 loss.

Abreu correctly noted the Sox were having better at-bats late in games, but of course, what's really needed is a good approach on a consistent basis.

"We have to start the game with that mentality and that fierceness to try to create opportunities, not just wait until the ninth inning to see what happens," Abreu said. "But I think that we are OK. I hope so. I am very confident that we will be OK at the end of the season."

They will be OK at the end of the season if they play like they did Wednesday. Abreu backed those comments up by going 2-for-4 with three RBIs in the victory. He hit a solo home run in the first inning to give the Sox an early lead, and his two-run double in the seventh capped a three-run rally that put the game away.

Cleveland's Corey Kluber, the 2014 AL Cy Young winner, gave up a career-high 13 hits and was touched up for all six runs.

Meanwhile, Jeff Samardzija picked up his first win in a Sox uniform with a workmanlike six shutout innings. Samardzija did not have his best stuff, but he pitched out of jams in four of his six innings.

  • The Indians had runners on first and third with one out in the second inning. They did not score.
  • The Indians loaded the bases in the third inning. They did not score.
  • The Indians had runners at first and second with two outs in the fourth. They did not score.
  • The Indians got a leadoff double in the sixth inning. They could not score, despite Samardzija being over 100 pitches at the start of the inning.
Eight of the nine Sox starters had at least one hit. Adam Eaton, Melky Cabrera, Abreu, Adam LaRoche, Alexei Ramirez and Micah Johnson had two hits each.

This win was as good as any the 6-8 Sox have had to this point in the season.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Opening Day at U.S. Cellular Field

Opening Day at U.S. Cellular Field is always one of my favorite days of the year.  The long, cold winter is over. A new season has begun, and it's a chance to celebrate that renewal with good friends and take in a ballgame. (See photos)

Too bad the White Sox missed the memo that this was supposed to be a happy occasion. I've been to the Sox home opener every year since 2010, and this is the first year I've seen them lose. Until Friday's 6-0 defeat at the hands of the Minnesota Twins, the Sox had won their home opener every year since 2007.

I guess it was inevitable that they'd drop one eventually, but this loss was pretty galling. The festive, sellout crowd that was present at the start of the game had thinned out to just us diehards by the time the game ended. The Sox looked terrible, and the loss dropped them to 0-4 -- the first time they've started a season with four consecutive losses since 1995.

Even though the Sox have been struggling, I did not expect their bats to be silenced by Minnesota left-hander Tommy Milone, a soft-tosser who reminded me a little bit of Bruce Chen. Milone worked 7.2 shutout innings and allowed just two hits -- a bunt single by Micah Johnson in the third and two-out double to Tyler Flowers in the eighth. The Sox did not have a runner reach third base until the ninth inning.

The Sox have scored one run or fewer in three of their first four games, and obviously, that doesn't lend itself to success. Look at some of these bad starts from hitters you expect to perform:

Adam Eaton: 2 for 16
Melky Cabrera: 2 for 16
Jose Abreu: 3 for 14
Avisail Garcia: 3 for 11 with all three hits coming in the same game
Adam LaRoche: 1 for 14 with 8 strikeouts
Alexei Ramirez: 1 for 12

These are all guys with a track record, but none of them are swinging the bat well right now. You just have to cross your fingers and hope they start hitting the way they have in the past.

But perhaps the most ridiculous thing I've seen from the Sox is their terrible baserunning. I know they want to be aggressive, but they've crossed the line to criminal stupidity. After Johnson's bunt single Friday, he was picked off second base -- the second time he's been picked off already this year. The final out of the game, somewhat fittingly, came on a bad baserunning play by Eaton. He tried to score from third on a shallow pop to left off Abreu's bat. He was tagged out while getting tangled up at the plate with Minnesota catcher Kurt Suzuki, and for what? Even if he's safe, it's 6-1. Why risk injury by making a reckless play like that in 6-0 game in the ninth?

It's time for the Sox to pull in the reins on their new "aggressive" baserunning strategy. So far, it's resulted in no stolen bases, and by my count, six gift outs for the opposition, including the two today. When you're not swinging the bats well, the problem is compounded when you waste outs on the basepaths.

And, oh, by the way, starting pitcher Hector Noesi stunk Friday. He walked six, threw two wild pitches and committed a balk in just 4.2 innings pitched. It's a miracle the Twins only scored two runs off him after they loaded the bases three times in the first five innings. Against a better hitting team, I believe Noesi would have been shelled today. Throughout the offseason, Sox brass was bullish on Noesi and insisted he would be improved for this season. Count me among the skeptics.

Reliever Zach Putnam also allowed three runs in the ninth inning Friday, increasing my suspicion that he was a one-year wonder in 2014.

It's too bad the play on the field had to be so bad for Opening Day. After that, you wonder how many of the 38,000-some in attendance on Friday will want to return. I'm going back to the ballpark tomorrow, but perhaps I'm just a glutton for punishment.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

White Sox give fans an Opening Day to forget

Opening Day of the baseball season is supposed to be about new beginnings and new hope. Unfortunately for the White Sox and their fans, Opening Day 2015 proved to be way too reminiscent of 2014.

The Kansas City Royals won 13 of 19 meetings against the White Sox on their way to the American League pennant last season, and they continued their mastery of the South Siders on Monday with an easy 10-1 victory.

You would like to think with all the acquisitions the Sox made over the offseason things would be different now, but at least for one day, the faces have changed but the results remained the same.

Starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija pitched poorly in his Sox debut. His fastball command was erratic at best. His offspeed pitches weren't working at all, and the result was five Kansas City runs on six hits over six-plus innings. Samardzija walked three and hit two batters, and he struck out just one. There wasn't anything good to say about his outing, other than the fact that the Sox were still in the game -- down 4-1 -- when he left the mound in the seventh inning. It could have been worse.

Relievers Dan Jennings and Kyle Drabek also struggled. By the time that seventh inning was over, Kansas City held a 9-1 lead. A 3-run homer by Alex Rios (off Drabek) was the highlight of the frame for the Royals, but in many ways, all five of those runs were gifts.

First off, Samardzija and Jennings each walked a batter to give the Royals two baserunners with nobody out. But it looked like Jennings had a chance to get out of the inning, as he got Lorenzo Cain to ground out and struck out Eric Hosmer. But with runners on second and third and two outs, Sox manager Robin Ventura needlessly ordered an intentional walk of Kendrys Morales.

Ventura wanted the left-handed Jennings to face the left-handed hitting Alex Gordon, but as we discussed when Jennings was acquired, he's not a lefty specialist. He actually gets right-handed hitters out at a better clip than lefties, so giving the Royals a third walk and a third baserunner in the inning was foolish move.

Still, Jennings made the pitch he needed to make to get out of the inning, but a weak grounder by Gordon somehow eluded both Alexei Ramirez and Micah Johnson and squirted into center field for a two-run single and a 6-1 Kansas City lead. It was a play Johnson should have made, but the play is at least partially Ramirez's fault because he jumped in front of the Sox rookie and perhaps screened him from seeing the ball.

The inning should have been over with the Royals still leading 4-1. Instead, it continued and Rios hit his home run to end any doubt on how this afternoon would end.

The Sox looked bad in all aspects, and it was hard not to feel like there wasn't some carryover from a poor ending to spring training. The South Siders had lost their last two exhibition games, a 10-2 drubbing against Arizona and a silly 10-2 loss to the Triple-A Charlotte Knights. Ventura had warned his team that enough was enough, and that the sloppy play needed to end.

That warning went unheeded, and similar results ensued in the opener in Kansas City. There were three silver linings from this game. 1) Jose Abreu homered, ending needless worries about his lack of power during spring training; 2) Johnson got his first big-league hit out of the way; and 3) it only counts as one loss and there's another game on Wednesday.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Catching up on White Sox roster moves, other news

The White Sox have almost finalized their 25-man roster for Opening Day with a flurry of roster moves over the past 48 hours, so let's get updated on the comings and goings.

Micah Johnson vs. Carlos Sanchez: Surprise! Both candidates for the starting second base job made the team, according to manager Robin Ventura. However, Ventura has yet to name his second baseman for the April 6 opener in Kansas City. Having both these two guys on the roster is likely a temporary situation. The team will open the year with 11 pitchers. When Chris Sale comes off the disabled list -- presumably on April 12 -- one of Johnson or Sanchez will be sent to the minors.

J.B. Shuck: Thanks to his .339/.391/.441 slash line this spring, Shuck has made the roster as a fourth outfielder. He also has stolen five bases during Cactus League play, and he might be the best defensive corner outfielder on the roster coming into the season.

Geovany Soto: The former Cub has secured the backup catching position, perhaps sealing his spot by throwing out 3 of 4 potential base stealers during a Tuesday game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. And, Soto would have thrown out 4 of 4 had shortstop Alexei Ramirez not missed a tag on Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig. Soto's .281/.439/.469 slash line didn't hurt his cause, either. He clearly distinguished himself over the other catching candidates.

Matt Albers: The veteran reliever made the 25-man roster despite allowing seven runs over his last three outings. He did start the spring strong with four consecutive scoreless innings, so perhaps that left an impression. Albers had a 3.14 ERA in 56 games for the Cleveland Indians in his last healthy season (2013), so perhaps the Sox believe with renewed health he can return to the form he showed two years ago.

Carlos Rodon: The heralded pitching prospect is headed back to Triple-A Charlotte, as expected, but he left one final good impression Tuesday with 5.1 innings of one-run ball against the Dodgers. The lefty finished the spring with a team-best 21 strikeouts in 17.2 innings and a 3.06 ERA. It won't be a surprise if we see him on the South Side before the 2015 season is over.

Jesse Crain and Brad Penny: The two pitchers were each paid $100,000 retention bonuses to stay with the organization, under rules governing minor league contracts. Both players will remain in the White Sox system with a June 1 opt-out clause, should they not reach the majors before then. Crain is still working his way back from shoulder problems that cost him the entire 2014 season.

Sale update: The White Sox ace struck out 13 Cincinnati Reds minor leaguers in a six-inning outing on Wednesday. He will have one more outing at extended spring training Monday before a likely return to the rotation April 12.

With that, I think we're all set on the news and notes. For now. There is still one more spot in the Sox bullpen to be claimed. I think it's going to Kyle Drabek. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

White Sox hope to avoid messy succession plan at second base

If you looked at the spring training stats a couple weeks ago and mentally began projecting White Sox prospect Micah Johnson for the second base job, you were among the many who thought the speedster had seized the role.

It's easy to forget that Johnson didn't begin the spring as the favorite. That would have been Carlos Sanchez, another Sox prospect who received a call-up last summer after Gordon Beckham was traded.

Something funny has happened since Johnson's hot start: Sanchez has caught up to him.

Johnson: .321/.368/.453
Sanchez: .371/.436/.371

All the caveats about spring training stats and small sample sizes apply. And we know neither guy is going to hit well above .300 all year. That's why we shouldn't be so excited for Johnson's first two weeks of spring, and why we should remember why Sanchez was favored to start the season as the second baseman.

Sanchez didn't blow anyone's doors off last year when he was called up (.250/.269/.300 in 104 PAs), but was doing good work in AAA (.293/.349/.412). That represented a solid bounce-back year for the 22-year-old when he had hit only .241/.293/.296 after being rushed to that level the season before. Sanchez has certainly shown adaptability.

Beyond optimism that Sanchez can improve the bat work he displayed in his audition, scouts agree he's much more polished defensively than Johnson, something the Sox might wish to carry with them into the season with some other defensive question marks around the diamond.

Then there's the matter of what Johnson doesn't have working in his favor.

The first is that he's not on the team's 40-man roster already. Picking Johnson over Sanchez could mean making another hard choice somewhere else.

There's the matter of Johnson's health. He did not get a call-up last year because he ended the season injured.

There's Johnson's lack of performance and experience at AAA. His overall minor league line of .294/.351/.401 is a combination of his robust AA performance (.329/.414/.466) and a forgettable one in Charlotte (.275/.314/.370 in just over 300 PAs).

Sliding a prospect into a starting role with that resume isn't something the Sox have been historically keen to do. The last time they started a season with a traditional rookie position player (traditional as in not an older Cuban) with fewer than 400 AAA plate appearances, it was Mike Caruso.

In that span if you go to fewer than 500 AAA plate appearances for a rookie given a job to start the year, you only get Brian Anderson and Chris Getz, and both hit better than Johnson has thus far at AAA.

The potential in Johnson's bat and his ability to improve on defense certainly gives him more upside than Sanchez, but realistically, all Sanchez had to do was keep the competition close to emerge with the job. And maybe he will by the end of the week.

Whichever player the Sox choose, they'd better be ready to stick by that decision.

It's easy to envision a scenario where Sanchez starts the season, and hits horribly through April and May. The Sox have had enough, but instead of proving he can hit and stay healthy, Johnson is struggling or injured at Charlotte. Then Beckham is back to start?

That's probably a better Plan C for second base than the Sox have had in a decade. It's still a far cry from where they want to be. In that worst-case scenario, no answers have been found about any players, or the future of the position.

Plan A, be it the safe decision with Sanchez or the more electrifying option of Johnson, needs to be seen through to the end. Whichever young player the Sox pick, they might need to settle for less than the ideal of watching that guy hit the ground running. It might mean living with some growing pains and resisting the temptation to return the devil they know (Beckham) to his starting role.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Tuesday thoughts: Micah Johnson, John Danks, Michael Taylor

So far, so good for White Sox prospect Micah Johnson this spring.

Johnson, the organization's preferred candidate to start at second base this season, raised his Cactus League average to .500 with a 4-for-4 performance in Tuesday's 6-2 win over the Kansas City Royals. The left-handed batter has hits in each of his last six at-bats, dating back to Monday.

Here's what I like about Johnson's four-hit game: The hits came against four different pitchers, and all four of those Kansas City pitchers are big leaguers: Jeremy Guthrie, Greg Holland, Jason Frasor and Brandon Finnegan. Johnson wasn't just padding his stats against pitchers we're never going to hear from again.

I still have a healthy amount of skepticism with regard to Johnson's readiness to play second base in the majors every day -- he's never played in a regular-season game and still has to prove to me that he can stay healthy -- but it's nice to see him taking the early lead in the competition for the position.

I think all Sox fans would agree they'd rather see Johnson win the job than default to the fallback options at the position (Gordon Beckham, Emilio Bonifacio).

Sox keep Danks away from Kansas City hitters

Tuesday would have been John Danks normal day to pitch, but the Sox instead had the veteran left-hander pitch four innings in a simulated game. Prospect Tyler Danish got the start on the mound against the Royals.

This is smart because Danks' first start of the season will likely be against Kansas City. Why give Royals hitters any edge by letting them get a look at Danks' pitches in the spring?

In fact, Sox used nothing but minor leaguers and fringe roster pitchers in Tuesday's game -- Danish, Zach Phillips, Raul Fernandez, Scott Carroll and Eric Surkamp.

When you think about it, that makes a lot of sense. The Royals are a Central Division foe, one the Sox face all the time. There's no reason to let them see the better pitchers on the team when the games don't count.

You look for any little edge you can find in what is likely to be a balanced, competitive division race this summer.

Outfielder Taylor retires

The Sox announced on Tuesday that outfielder Michael Taylor has retired from baseball.

The 29-year-old former top prospect was a longshot to make the roster, and after 3,765 career plate appearances in the minor leagues, perhaps he had tired of long bus rides.

Taylor hit .306 at Triple-A Charlotte last year, and the Sox promoted him to the majors in September. Still, he had appeared in just 37 major league games with the A's and Sox over the past four years.

In 2010, Taylor was a highly regarded player in the Oakland organization, ranked as the 20th best prospect in the game by Baseball Prospectus. It never panned out for him.

Let Taylor's story be a reminder that prospects are only prospects, and most don't make it big, even those who are ranked highly on these lists by various publications.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

White Sox manager Robin Ventura considers carrying 13 pitchers

The offseason and the start of spring training has been jovial and full of optimism for the White Sox and their fans, but here's the first thing I've heard in a while that makes my stomach a little queasy: Manager Robin Ventura is considering carrying 13 pitchers when the team comes north to start the season.

“You could take the other route where you bring an extra pitcher,” Ventura told ESPN's Doug Padilla. “With the versatility we have, we have some options on how we are going to go early in the year, with some days off and probably have some rainouts and things like that, but you want to be protected all the way around. Right now, we are pretty open to it.” 

I shudder.

You can see how this idea of roster construction got hatched. Assuming either Micah Johnson or Carlos Sanchez wins the starting second base job, the Sox will have two versatile players on their bench. Gordon Beckham can play three positions. Emilio Bonifacio can play six positions. With Bonifacio's ability to play the outfield and Beckham's ability to cover the infield positions, you can make a case that the Sox don't need a true fourth outfielder to take up the 25th spot on the roster. I understand the philosophy; I just disagree with it.

Ventura actually brought up the biggest reason for my disagreement: You have days off early in the season. In fact, the Sox have three scheduled off days before the season is even two weeks old. In addition, the weather stinks in April. It will be a huge upset if all the early-season games are played as scheduled in the upper Midwest. Is there going to be enough work for 13 pitchers? I don't think so. I don't see the Sox being in any danger of overworking their pitchers early in the season, even if they were to carry only 11 guys.

Moreover, the Sox have a solid top three in the rotation this year. Chris Sale, Jeff Samardzija and Jose Quintana are expected to get the game into the seventh or eighth inning more times than not. We already know new closer David Robertson has the last three outs in the ninth. If things go according to plan, that means most days you need middle relief to cover about 3-6 outs a day. Do you really need seven relief pitchers who are not named Robertson to cover those 3-6 middle-inning outs? Not in my world.

One of the things I like about the Bonifacio addition is his ability to come off the bench, pinch run and steal a bag in a key situation. But when you have only two other position players on your bench, you have to be cautious about using a guy in a specialized role like that. Under this "13 pitchers" scenario, Bonifacio would be the only backup outfielder on the roster, so if the manager uses him situationally, he leaves himself with no other outfield option if a game goes extra innings, and he leaves himself with no protection in the event a player gets injured. For me, that's an uncomfortable scenario.

I just don't see a lot of benefit to this, especially when the "13th pitcher" would likely be one of Daniel Webb, Maikel Cleto and Eric Surkamp. Those guys were members of the hated and despised 2014 White Sox bullpen. Don't we want to see less of them, not more?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Gordon Beckham returns to White Sox; Dayan Viciedo designated for assignment

The White Sox announced Wednesday they have agreed with infielder Gordon Beckham on a one-year, $2 million contract.

The club also designated outfielder Dayan Viciedo for assignment, after apparently failing to find any takers on the trade market.

Beckham, 28, was the Sox's first-round draft pick in 2008 and struggled with the bat throughout most of his five-plus seasons with the team. He was traded to the Los Angeles Angels on Aug. 21 and finished 2014 with a .226 average, 27 doubles, nine home runs and 44 RBIs.

We already know Beckham, a lifetime .245 hitter, isn't good enough with the bat to be an everyday second baseman. The good news is the Sox's intention seems to be to use him in a utility role.

“Adding Gordon improves the depth and flexibility of our roster,” Sox general manager Rick Hahn said in a statement. “We are thrilled to have him back. Like Emilio Bonifacio, Gordon brings the ability to play solid defense at multiple positions or play on an everyday basis should the need arise. This also gives [manager] Robin [Ventura] the ability to play matchups more effectively when setting the lineup.”

Ah, matchups.

Most of Beckham's critics probably didn't realize that even at his worst last season he could still hit left-handed pitching. Here are his slash lines from last year:

vs. LHP: .293/.349/.431
vs. RHP: .203/.242/.318

Beckham can hit lefties; Conor Gillaspie can hit righties. There's your third base platoon, Sox fans. We know Beckham is good enough defensively to play anywhere on the infield. His glove is a plus at second base, and it's no worse than average at third base. The Sox could even throw him at shortstop, his college position, in a pinch.

If fans put aside their bias, they can see this signing makes sense -- as long as Beckham is used in a utility role to maximize his strengths. If both Micah Johnson and Carlos Sanchez fail at second base this year and Beckham becomes the everyday player at that spot once more, well, that's not ideal. Cross your fingers and hope that doesn't happen.

With this move, the Sox are about to part ways with Viciedo. The 25-year-old hit .231 with 21 home runs and 58 RBIs last year. He's neither a good fielder nor a good baserunner, and his bat was simply never good enough to overcome his other weaknesses. There didn't seem to be any room for him on the Sox's 2015 roster, and apparently he has no trade value either.

Lastly, Beckham's return gives us another opportunity to cue up "Welcome Back Kotter." That's been happening a lot lately ...

Monday, January 5, 2015

White Sox sign Emilio Bonifacio to one-year contract

The White Sox have agreed to terms on a one-year contract with veteran utilityman Emilio Bonifacio, sources say.

According to reports, Bonifacio will make $3 million in 2015. The deal includes a $4 million club option for 2016 with a $1 million buyout.

Bonifacio posted a .259/.305/.345 slash line with three home runs, 24 RBIs and 26 stolen bases last season for the Cubs and the Atlanta Braves. The eight-year veteran played six different positions at different points in 2014 -- all three outfield positions and every infield position except first base.

This pickup makes sense for the Sox for a few different reasons. First, Bonifacio is an upgrade as a utility player over Leury Garcia, who was pathetic last year. Garcia hit .166 with a .192 on-base percentage in 74 games in 2014. He also struck out 48 times in 145 at-bats.

It won't take much for Bonifacio to be an improvement over Garcia's laughably poor numbers. Bonifacio is a .262 lifetime hitter. If he hits close to that level, as he did last year, the Sox will be happy with the signing.

In addition, the switch-hitting Bonifacio hits left-handed pitching much better than he hits right-handed pitching. This is key, because the Sox have been searching for someone to platoon with Conor Gillaspie at third base. Gillaspie hits righties well, but struggles against lefties.

Bonifacio's career numbers against left-handed pitching suggest he can be a reasonable complement to Gillaspie:

Career vs. LHP: .291/.341/.380
Career vs. RHP: .250/.311/.326

In 2014, Bonifacio's platoon splits were even more drastic. In fact, he destroyed left-handed pitching last year:

2014 vs. LHP: .365/.411/.548
2014 vs. RHP: .221/.266/.272

Bonifacio has played 141 career games at third base. Expect that figure to go up once he joins the Sox. You'll see him at third base against left-handed starters.

You'll also see Bonifacio as a pinch runner late in games. He has 164 career steals in his eight seasons, so he figures to be the speed guy off the bench.

Lastly, Bonifacio has played more games at second base in his career (196) than at any other infield position. The Sox intend for a couple of rookies (Carlos Sanchez, Micah Johnson) to compete for the starting job at that spot. But what if both fall flat on their faces? Now, the Sox have a player in Bonifacio who can serve as an insurance policy in case that happens.

For multiple reasons, this signing makes good sense for the Sox.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

White Sox fans won't be seeing Micah Johnson in September

The Sept. 1 roster expansion is still a week and a half away, but we know we won't be seeing White Sox prospect Micah Johnson at U.S. Cellular Field next month.

Johnson, who has hit .294 between Double-A and Triple-A this year, has been shut down for the season due to a left hamstring strain that has plagued him for months.

It's unfortunate because Johnson is one of the best position prospects in the White Sox system. He's considered close to major-league ready, and he plays a position of need -- second base.

However, it's impossible to argue with this decision. It's the right move. Johnson's best asset is his speed, and he's been limited in that area for a significant portion of the season. The proof is in his stolen base numbers.

Johnson attracted a good deal of attention during the 2013 season when he stole 84 bases in 110 attempts over 131 games at three different levels. This year, Johnson has just 22 steals in 36 attempts over 102 games at two levels. He's not running as frequently, and he hasn't been as successful in the limited number of attempts he's made. That shows his legs aren't feeling good.

This is a setback for the White Sox, who have to be eager to replace incumbent second baseman Gordon Beckham at this point.

Even if you're a fan of Beckham's defense, his offense has become so poor that it's impossible to ignore. He's having the worst season of his career by any measure. His slash line is a horrible .221/.263/.336. His season OPS of .598 is well below his career mark of .680. Anytime you have an everyday player with an OPS below .600, that player needs to be replaced. I don't care how good his defense is.

Worse yet, Beckham is regressing with the bat, perhaps fading with the knowledge that his days on the South Side are numbered. His brutal July (.138/.158/.213) has been backed up with almost-as-miserable August (.190/.217/.207). Combined, his OPS has slipped below .400 since July 1.

With that knowledge at hand, the Sox should bench Beckham for the final month and put him out of his misery. Ideally, Johnson would be the guy you play in September, but that just can't happen right now.

Opportunity knocks for the Sox' two other middle infield prospects, Carlos Sanchez and Marcus Semien. Both appear to be candidates for a September recall. Johnson's injury combined with Beckham's ineptness has created an opening for at least one of these two players.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Gordon Beckham is drowning in his 'prove it' season

Time for another round of player comparison. Each of these four slash lines belongs to an everyday player in the White Sox lineup. Which would you say is the worst?

Player A: .235/.292/.328
Player B: .224/.274/.355
Player C: .235/.307/.361
Player D: .236/.287/.400

If you said B, that means you believe Gordon Beckham is the worst hitter in a Chicago lineup that has its share of weak bats.

Beckham is in the process of playing himself out of town with a painful, soul-crushing slump. He is 1 for 22 since the All-Star break. He is 6 for 66 in the month of July, posting a .091/.127/.136 slash line over that period. He has not hit a home run since June 24.

You can always tell when Beckham is in a terrible spin because White Sox TV announcer Ken "Hawk" Harrelson will always protect him by talking up Beckham's "strong arm" at second base, and by noting the number of double plays the Sox have turned on the season. If you watched the broadcast of Wednesday's 2-1 loss to the Kansas City Royals, you heard Harrelson give that speech no fewer than three times.

But no matter what way you slice it, Beckham is drowning in his "prove it" season, and it's time for the Sox to move on. I can live with fewer double plays being turned if I can have a second baseman with an OBP of more than .274. Beckham is on his way to the worst season of his mediocre (at best) career.  He's been in the big leagues for five years now, and it's folly to assume he's ever going to become more than he is. He's not a prospect anymore.

The Sox have other options, too. Marcus Semien (.241/.338/.454) hasn't exactly been tearing it up in the minor leagues, but Carlos Sanchez (.295/.355/.413) is having a nice year at Triple-A Charlotte. Prospect Micah Johnson (.303/.333/.404) is inching closer to being big-league ready, as well. Any of those three stands a decent-to-good chance of equaling or bettering Beckham's production with the bat, and all would cost less than the $4.1 million the Sox are paying this year for Beckham to hit .224.

There are plenty of trade rumors swirling around Beckham, and perhaps that has contributed to his miserable, seemingly distracted July performance. However, it's hard to tell whether trade rumors are the cause of Beckham's woes, because we've seen prolonged slumps like this from him before. I'm forced to come to the conclusion that he's just a poor hitter, and that the Sox can do better at that position. In fact, they must do better.

It's time to trade Beckham. Get whatever you can get and spend the last two months of the season taking a look at one of the infield prospects from Triple-A. The Sox are 10 games out of first in the AL Central. It's time to start looking toward next year. Beckham is part of the problem, and he's not part of the solution. Is there someone else in the organization who can help? Let's find out.

(For the record, Player A above is Tyler Flowers. Player C is Alejandro De Aza. Player D is Dayan Viciedo.)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

White Sox prospect update

Thursday is an off-day for the White Sox, so let's take a moment to update the activities of some of the top prospects in the organization.

1. Matt Davidson, 3B, Charlotte -- Davidson continued his hottest stretch of the season on Wednesday, going 2-for-5 with two doubles for the Knights. He hit two home runs in the second game of a doubleheader on Monday night, including a walk-off blast in the 10th inning that lifted Charlotte to a 7-5 win. Davidson had an extremely poor first two months, so his overall slash line looks sickly: .206/.282/.419. But he hit .353 over his last 10 games in June. He homered nine times during the month, and now ranks second in the International League with 15 home runs. At least he's trending in the right direction.

2. Micah Johnson, 2B, Charlotte -- The "game changer" started the year at Double-A Birmingham and dominated opposing pitchers, posting a .329/.414/.466 slash with three homers, 16 RBIs and 10 steals in 37 games. Since his promotion to Charlotte, the numbers are a little more modest: .272/.303/.353 with a homer, 15 RBIs and five steals in 31 games. To be fair, there's often an adjustment period when a player is promoted to the next level, and that's been the case for Johnson. He's highly regarded enough that he was named to the U.S. roster for the Futures Game. It wouldn't be shocking if he gets a September callup this year. Scouts rank his speed as an 80 on the 20-to-80 scale, so that tool combined with his decent-to-good bat will likely get him to the majors. The question is, is he a second baseman or an outfielder moving forward?

3. Tim Anderson, SS, Winston-Salem -- The Sox recently got bad news on Anderson, who was hit by a pitch and will miss four to six weeks with a fracture in his right wrist. Anderson continued to play after he was struck, but the pain worsened and he was shut down after an X-ray revealed the fracture. He was hitting .297/.323/.472 at the time of the injury with six home runs, 10 stolen bases, 31 RBIs and 48 runs scored in 68 games. Anderson's glove is a much bigger question mark than his bat. He's committed a whopping 31 errors this season. Still, the Sox have given no indication they plan to move him off shortstop.

4. Tyler Danish, RHP, Winston Salem -- The second-round pick in the 2013 draft started the year in Kannapolis and overmatched opposing hitters, going 3-0 with 0.71 ERA in seven starts. He was elevated to Winston-Salem, which is an aggressive placement for a 19-year-old kid. In seven starts at High-A, he's 1-1 with a 5.16 ERA, but at least he's got 26 strikeouts in 29.2 IP over seven starts. He recently returned from a short stint on the disabled list, and his three-quarters arm slot (think Jake Peavy) has some scouts concerned about his durability. But, Danish has a 95 mph heater with good sink, and the Sox like pitchers with good sinkers. Danish is a longer-term prospect. You won't be seeing him in Chicago this year or next year. Maybe 2016 if all goes well.

5. Courtney Hawkins, OF, Winston-Salem -- I heard a report today that Hawkins might be headed to the seven-day DL after crashing into a wall in left field on Wednesday night. I haven't heard anything about the extent of the injury, but hopefully it is not serious. The 2012 first-round pick dropped on some of the prospect lists after a wretched 2013 that saw him hit .178/.249/.384 in High-A. Again, though, that was an aggressive placement by the Sox. Hawkins was a 19-year-old playing against older guys last summer. This year, he's repeating the same level and has improved. He's hitting .255/.337/.482 with 13 home runs and 59 RBIs in 79 games. That's a good RBI total. He had only 62 in all of 2013. I think 2015 will be the big year for Hawkins. He'll probably be moved up to Double-A, and we'll see if he can keep his career on an upward arc.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

White Sox designate Jeff Keppinger for assignment

In a move that surprised many observers, the White Sox on Wednesday designated infielder Jeff Keppinger for assignment.

Keppinger, 34, hit a career-best .325 two years ago with the Tampa Bay Rays, but he slumped to a .253/.283/.317 slash line for the 2013 White Sox. He was limited by a right shoulder problem, which ultimately cut his season short and required surgery. He was slow to recover from the injury over the offseason and appeared in just six spring training games before being placed on the disabled list on March 30.

Keppinger has been on a rehab assignment since May 2 at Double-A Birmingham, where he hit .256 in 11 games. With the rehab period set to expire, the Sox decided they'd rather cut Keppinger loose than put him on the major league roster.

The decision is surprising because Keppinger is in just the second year of a three-year, $12 million deal he signed with the Sox prior to the start of the 2013 season. With the move, the Sox are opting to eat approximately $7.5 million dollars, which is a departure from business as usual on the South Side.

Typically in situations such as this, you would expect the Sox to trot Keppinger out to third base every day for the next two months, hoping he would play well enough to entice a contending team to take his salary off their hands.

Not this time. Instead, they recognized there is no place for Keppinger on the roster.

Conor Gillaspie has played well at third base for the Sox this season, and the team has hopes that prospect Matt Davidson will reverse his struggles at the plate and eventually become the long-term answer at the position. There's no room at second base for Keppinger, either, with younger players Gordon Beckham, Marcus Semien and Leury Garcia all ahead of him on the organization's depth chart.

Not to mention, the Sox recently promoted second baseman Micah Johnson, one of their better prospects, to Triple-A Charlotte. With Davidson and middle infield prospect Carlos Sanchez also toiling in Charlotte, there isn't even any room for Keppinger in the Triple-A infield. There is no point in giving Keppinger at-bats over any of these younger infielders, at any level, so it is the right baseball decision to send him packing.

In the past, the Sox have at times let economics get in the way of making the right baseball decision. In this case, I applaud GM Rick Hahn and the Sox front office for doing the right thing. At one point in time, signing Keppinger looked like a good move. It just didn't work out, but at least the Sox aren't compounding the mistake by keeping a useless player around because of money.

Keppinger is out of the organization, and the Sox rebuilding plan is better off for it.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

When Conor Gillaspie returns from the DL, who will the White Sox send down?

White Sox third baseman Conor Gillaspie is on a rehab assignment at Triple-A Charlotte and could come off the disabled list as soon as Wednesday.

Before suffering a bruised hand, Gillaspie was hitting .302 with 12 RBIs in 16 games. Upon his return, he's going to take over for Marcus Semien as the Sox's regular third baseman. And unlike earlier in the year, there isn't much playing time available for Semien at second base, now that Gordon Beckham is back off the disabled list.

So, what do the Sox do with Semien? Is he the guy they send back to the minors when Gillaspie is activated? Or will outfielder Jordan Danks or all-purpose player Leury Garcia be optioned? It's not an easy call, and there is more than likely some internal debate going on among White Sox brass.

If the fans had their way, Beckham would probably be the guy shown the door -- even with his 4-for-5 performance and go-ahead home run in Tuesday's 5-1 victory over the Cubs at Wrigley Field. The disappointing second baseman has become a bit of a whipping boy for fans on Internet message boards, but let's be realistic: The Sox aren't going to cut Beckham loose now or look to trade him when he's just coming off an injury and his value is at its lowest.

For better or for worse, Beckham is the regular second baseman until at least July. Defensively, he's still the Sox's best option at the position. If he rebuilds his value by midseason, he could be shipped off at the trade deadline to clear a starting spot for either Semien or Micah Johnson. But that's a question for another time.

When Gillaspie returns, one of Semien, Danks or Garcia is going to be gone. Of the three, Danks is perhaps the weakest player, but he needs to remain on the roster for as long as Adam Eaton is on the disabled list. With Eaton on the shelf, Danks is the only good defensive outfielder the Sox have. Without him, you're looking at a starting outfield of Moises Sierra, Alejandro De Aza and Dayan Viciedo -- with Garcia, an infielder by trade, and Adam Dunn, a designated hitter by trade, filling backup roles. Not acceptable. If I'm making the decision, Danks stays despite his ugly .098/.229/.195 slash line.

That leaves Semien and Garcia. A lot of Sox fans would disagree with me here, but I think Semien goes to Charlotte for more playing time. Garcia stays as the backup infielder.

It's tough because Semien has shown a flair for the dramatic this season. He's had some big hits for the Sox -- 15 of his 16 RBIs have come in the sixth inning or later. That said, I can't ignore his.213/.267/.346 slash line, nor can I ignore his league-leading 45 strikeouts.

I like Semien and think he could be an everyday player in the majors at some point in the future. I just don't think that day is today. I don't think he would benefit much from sitting on the major league bench, so I support sending him to Triple-A and having him work on closing some of the holes in that swing. Garcia, to me, will never be more than a utility infielder anyway, so I'm fine with leaving him right where he is.

For me, Semien's development is a greater priority than Garcia's development. He's the better of the two players. Semien's the one who needs the everyday at-bats in my book, so the Sox should put him in a place where he can get them. That place, right now, is Charlotte.

We'll probably find out sometime in the next 48 hours whether the Sox agree with me.

Monday, March 3, 2014

If Gordon Beckham is traded, it probably won't be soon

It's become a White Sox spring training tradition to wonder if Gordon Beckham can fix what's been wrong for him at the plate since the start of the 2010 season.

After posting promising numbers (.270/.347/.460) as a 22-year-old call-up during the 2009 season, Beckham has mostly fallen flat with the bat (.244/.306/.364). Gone is the power he flashed during his debut, and with it his ability to get on base and hit for much average.

Beckham's saving graces have been been his solid defense at second base, and his affordable paychecks that have made him a decent value for his salary while his offense only approaches adequacy.

Here's the problem for the Sox: Because of his glove and contract status, Beckham has value, just not much value to them as they seek to rebuild.

Beckham, and his two relatively cheap years of team control remaining, are probably enticing to a team in need of a second baseman. It makes more sense to kick the tires on him and at least get good glove work at second base than to trade for someone like Brandon Phillips, Rickie Weeks or Dan Uggla, who are all available because they were worse than Beckham last year and have huge, expensive contracts.

He's less useful to the rebuilding Sox because they're not a contender looking to fill a hole with a guy who is minimally useful. He's also less useful because they have at least one guy (Marcus Semien) who might be as good or better, and cheaper, right now. They've got another guy who might be near as good and cheaper right now (Leury Garcia). They've got another guy (Micah Johnson) rocketing through their system at second base, and another guy at the position (Carlos Sanchez) who the Sox hope can overcome a tough year to return to his top-prospect status.

With the cheaper in-house alternatives, the second base situation is similar to the one GM Rick Hahn had on his hands last August after trading Jake Peavy for Avisail Garcia. The Sox still had Alex Rios in right field, but suddenly had a player who was maybe just as good, certainly cheaper, and definitely more likely to be a part of the team's future.

Instead of pulling the trigger right away on a Rios deal in which he had to eat money, Hahn waited it out until the Rangers agreed to take on most of the remaining contract and send the Sox a useful player in return (Leury Garcia).

Here's why Hahn is likely to exercise patience again:
  • Beckham's value will only go up if he hits well to start the year. 
  • If Semien plays a while in Charlotte before a Beckham trade, the Sox limit his service time and maybe get an extra team-controlled year.  
  • It probably wouldn't hurt to make sure Semien doesn't implode like Sanchez a year ago. If he does and the Sox haven't dealt Beckham, the team at least has another option for 2015 depending on how everything else pans out. 
At this moment, it's hard to envision Beckham as part of the Sox's long-term future. While the natural temptation is to rush to turn the page, there's no need to act fast, so the Sox probably won't.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Which White Sox nonroster invitees will be worth watching?

When spring training opens next month, the White Sox will have 21 nonroster invitees in camp.

Several of the players on the list are retread veterans, including five who saw time with the Sox last season -- Dylan Axelrod (pictured), Brian Omogrosso, Hector Gimenez, David Purcey and Blake Tekotte.

Most Sox fans would just assume never see those guys on the South Side again. At best, these players are nothing more than organization depth.

Another group of players on this list are castoffs from other organizations, guys who stand little or no chance of making a big league roster. They include pitchers Parker Frazier, Omar Poveda, Zach Putnam and Mauricio Robles, infielder Alex Liddi and outfielder Denis Phipps.

All that said, one of the best parts of following spring training is seeing how some of the organization's prospects fare. Among those the Sox will be looking at this year are pitchers Chris Bassitt, Chris Beck, Cody Winiarski and Scott Snodgress; infielders Micah Johnson, Mike McDade and Andy Wilkins; catchers Miguel Gonzalez and Kevan Smith; and outfielder Keenyn Walker.

Who on that list will be worth your attention this spring? Well, I'll give you two names: Beck and Johnson.

Beck, 23, is the No. 9 prospect in the Sox organization according to Baseball America. He went 13-10 with a 3.07 ERA in 2013, splitting time between Winston-Salem and Birmingham. He won two playoff starts in helping the Barons to the Southern League championship. He's a strike-thrower with a low-90s fastball, a good sinker, which should help him if he ever plays at U.S. Cellular Field, and a decent changeup. His breaking stuff still needs to be refined, but he could be a reasonable back-of-the-rotation option for the Sox as early as 2015.

Johnson, a 23-year-old second baseman, is the No. 6 prospect in the organization. He is intriguing because he has game-breaking speed. He led all minor leaguers with 84 stolen bases in 2013. He was the MVP of the South Atlantic League All-Star Game before being called up to Birmingham, where he hit .368 in the postseason. We'll have to wait and see whether Johnson's hit tool develops enough to be a major league player. As they say, you can't steal first base. But, this is a player who can steal second and third if he can find a way to get on first consistently.

You never know which prospects will take a leap forward in a given year, but if I were to take an educated guess, Beck and Johnson would be the two I'd pick.