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White Sox: Can Erik Johnson rebound in 2015?

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Apr 9, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Erik Johnson (45) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Many predicted that Chicago White Sox pitcher Erik Johnson was going to be a solid starter for the team in 2014 since he broke spring training a member of the Opening Day roster.

After posting a 3-2 record and a 3.25 ERA in 2013, he seemed poised to be one of the better young starters not only for the White Sox, but in the whole league.

Well, things didn’t exactly turn out that way for Johnson last year. He only started five games in April before being sent down to the minors, where his numbers were poor, to say the least.

Johnson had a 1-1 record and a 6.46 ERA before being sent down to Charlotte. Those numbers aren’t good for a pitcher who the White Sox were counting on to be in their rotation for years to come.

In this recent article on WhiteSox.com, it says of Johnson:

"“Johnson was penciled into the four-spot of the 2014 starting five, but his effort almost immediately didn’t look anything like what the White Sox envisioned.”"

Johnson has played in 10 career games with the White Sox in parts of the ’13 and ’14 seasons (51 IP) with a 4.73 ERA, with WARs of 0.2 in ’13 (27.2 IP) and -0.4 in ’14 (23.2 IP). He also has WHIPs of 1.554 in ’13 and 1.775 in ’14.

What does Johnson need to do to improve?

First off, he needs to get his velocity back. In 2013, his fastball was being clocked in the low- to mid-90s. This past season, he was scraping 90 MPH with his fastball. That is a big difference for a pitcher who has a power element to his game.

What caused this, I’m not sure, but if he gets it back, Johnson could still be a solid pitcher at the major league level.

Next: Dayan Viciedo officially released by White Sox

Here is a question: Will Johnson be in the rotation at any time this upcoming season?

In my opinion, yes, but that all hinges on two things. First, getting his “stuff” back. Then, Johnson must regain his confidence.

If both of those things happen, he will find his way into the rotation sometime in 2015. If there are injuries, we can assume he would be one of the top options for a call-up by the White Sox.

I understand that many fans want to see top prospect Carlos Rodon in the rotation ASAP, but he may end up starting in the bullpen and already be on the MLB roster.

With Charlotte in ’14, the right-handed pitcher was 5-7 with 6.73 ERA in 20 starts. In those 105.2 IP, he had 63 strikeouts and a WHIP of 1.80. Opponents had a .319 average against him.

The hope is that Johnson turns everything around, because he seems to be a good kid who had some struggles last year. Also, he has the chance to be a workhorse starter for the next five to six years.

If he can show the improvement needed this year, the White Sox could have another cost-controlled young arm. The current rotation for the White Sox has the chance to be special over the next several years, especially if Johnson pans out, and if Samardzija signs a long-term deal.

Johnson will have a tough time making the White Sox Opening Day roster in 2015. However, if he shows his velocity is back in spring training, there is a very good chance that he could be called up during the season.

He may not be an elite pitcher, but there is still a chance that he could be a middle-of-the-rotation workhorse, which every team needs.

With the Sox having some issues at the back of the rotation, Johnson becoming the pitcher the club expects him to be would be a welcomed surprise for White Sox fans this season.

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