A few weeks ago, I started writing an article about White Sox prospect Micah Johnson as he had been on a bit of a tear to start the year. I won’t flatter myself to suggest you have noticed my absence, but for a few weeks I have been unavailable to contribute here. Fortunately, Micah just kept on mashing and running, which kept the article topical.
For a little bit of background, Johnson is a very good athlete. He possesses excellent speed, and was apparently good enough at basketball to beat Greg Oden in one-on-one when they were both in high school. The White Sox were able to scoop him up in the 9th round in the 2012 draft – lower than he might otherwise have been gone, as he struggled with injuries during the Cape Cod League and his junior year at Indiana.
Johnson came into the season with question marks about whether he could reduce his errors enough to stay at second base, with center field being the fallback option. While he had demonstrated good on-base skills in rookie ball last year, he hadn’t really shown great contact rates or power, especially as a college player at that level (.273/.371/.375). As is so often the case, great athletes aren’t always able to translate their gifts into baseball skills. Still, this profile was good enough to get him ranked as the White Sox #25 prospect by Baseball America coming into this season – modest and amusing praise.
So far this season has mostly been a success. The switch-hitting Johnson’s batting line at A-ball currently sits at .335/.425/.505. What’s more, while Billy Hamilton was supposed to keep destroying our ideas about stealing bases in the minors, Micah Johnson is currently leading all baseball players in the minors and majors (and Mexican league, for that matter!) with 47 steals, a full 14 ahead of the 2nd place minor leaguer. Those stolen bases have also come at a 78% success rate. Another piece of good news is that so far this season he has cut his K% down from 23.3% last year to 17.2%, while maintaining a healthy walk rate of 12.2%. Clearly, the power has been much improved as well – on Wednesday his 3-game homer streak was snapped, and in that game he still smacked a pair of doubles.
The bad news has been that Johnson still seems to have an iron glove, with 15 errors already on the season, good for a .932 fielding percentage. Most of the time, errors and by extension fielding percentage aren’t really useful metrics – but when you’re booting 7% of the balls you get to, it matters a lot. If he can’t improve dramatically in that area, he will have to be moved out of the infield entirely, although there is still defensive utility in center field if he can stick there instead. Johnson certainly has the speed for the position, and his arm is good enough, as long as he can make the necessary adjustments to move to the outfield.
The White Sox made a lot of extremely aggressive promotions this offseason, and many of those players have struggled mightily in response so far. Johnson is a college player who already has 500+ minor league PAs sitting at A-ball. Perhaps he’s going to force the White Sox to bump him up to high A, but I wouldn’t blame them if they wanted to take their time with him either. Regardless, Johnson deserves to be on White Sox fans’ radar screens.