Erik Johnson getting prime opportunity in matchup against Royals, Cueto


The Chicago White Sox are in for an interesting offseason. After shelling out money and making an aggressive play in the trade market before this season, general manager Rick Hahn and team president Kenny Williams must decide whether the best move is to take another shot or turn to the youth they have in their farm system.

This season alone we have already seen the likes of Carlos Sanchez, Tyler Saladino, Trayce Thompson and Micah Johnson graduate from Triple-A to the majors and play some kind of significant role. Of that group, only Sanchez has made a convincing argument to return to the team as an everyday player.

Players who haven’t had that opportunity quite yet include Tim Anderson, Matt Davidson and Erik Johnson. But for Johnson, Sunday could go a long way into deciding his fate for 2016.

The big right-hander is set to make his 2015 debut against the Kansas City Royals, the best team in the American League by a wide margin. On top of that, he will be matched up with one of the best pitchers in all of baseball in Johnny Cueto.

Cueto has struggled a bit in his last three starts allowing 16 earned runs and four home runs. Still, to expect the White Sox to touch him up to a tune of that magnitude would be premature. The Royals rent-a-ace has won at least 19 games in two of the last three previous seasons and hasn’t had an ERA above 3.00 since 2010.

Needless to say, whatever issues he is going through, we all know they aren’t going to last forever.

Meanwhile, Johnson is coming off of arguably the best season of his professional career. At Triple-A Charlotte, he went 11-8 and his 2.37 ERA and 136 strikeouts led all pitcher in the International League, thus him being named IL Most Valuable Pitcher.

It is a nice rebound from a disastrous 2014 season.

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After going 12-3 with a 1.96 ERA between Birmingham (Double-A) and Charlotte and posting a 3.25 ERA in five major league September starts in 2013, he started the year in the major league rotation. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long.

Johnson posted a 6.46 ERA in five starts before being sent back to Charlotte and never returning. Thing only got worse from there as his ERA ballooned to 6.73 and opponents hit for a .319 batting average in 20 starts.

Even with his strong performance in the minors this season, the White Sox are not quite oozing with confidence in Johnson. It is safe to assume that Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Carlos Rodon and John Danks are all locked into rotation spots for next season.

Aug 19, 2015; Anaheim, CA, USA; Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija (29) pitches against the Los Angeles Angels during the first inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Samardzija however has performed far below expectations this season. He has a team-high 4.87 ERA and stands no chance in getting the $100 million pay day he has been dreaming about. Unless he decides to accept the qualifying offer the White Sox are certain to make (which no player has ever done) he will be lost to free agency.

That leaves one open spot in the rotation. Perfect scenario for Johnson right?

Well the thing is there are quite a few options available to be signed this offseason, all with more dependable track records. Not signing a replacement means essentially the job is his to lose. That is a heck of a commitment to a player one year removed from the worst of his career.

The White Sox are sure to be looking to do whatever it takes to contend next season. That makes the idea holding open a rotation spot for Johnson hard to imagine. That is unless in this final month, he dominates the competition. And Sunday, it starts with the AL champion Royals and Cueto.

The offense got off to a great start Friday night scoring 12 runs on 17 hits. Hopefully for Johnson, that can continue into his start Sunday.

Next: White Sox A Advanced pitcher of August: SP Jordan Guerrero

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