It’s a tough time to be a White Sox fan. Even after a productive offseason, the big league team finished with second worst record in baseball last season and their farm system, while improving, still ranks as one of the worst in baseball. But the handful of fans who stuck around to watch the ChiSox September games caught a glimpse of what will be one of the more exciting aspects of their 2014 campaign: Right handed starter Erik Johnson.
Johnson, 24, was given a september call up and impressed from the getgo. Over five september starts, the young starter went 3-2 with a 3.25 ERA across 27.2 innings.
Statistical success is not new to Johnson. He was a standout at UC Berkely and pitched to a 2.53 ERA in his first full professional season in 2012, receiving a promotion from class-A Kannapolis to High-A Winston Salem halfway through the year. Johnson started 2013 in Double-A, but was promotion after 14 starts, an 8-2 record, a 2.23 ERA and a 3.19 FIP. He only improved with the call up, lowering his ERA to 1.57 and his FIP to 2.59 while striking out nearly a batter per nine.
Command, which had been an issue for Johnson since his college days, seemed to no longer be a concern last season. He pitched to a 2.5 BB/9 in the minors and a 3.6 BB/9, a decent number for a rookie, in his brief major league stint.
Still, Johnson’s peripherals in the majors offer a slightly more troubling story. Although his ERA was a sparkling 3.25, his FIP was 5.40 and his xFIP was 4.73. He simply was not missing bats, striking out only 5.6 batters per nine, and with a HR/9 1.6, he gave up the long ball far too often. Granted, part of that elevated home run rate is the result of pitching in Cellular Field, but that’s the reality of pitching in Chicago.
Johnson’s stats are backed up by scouting reports that scream middle-of-the-rotation workhorse. He has four quality pitches, working primarily off of a low-90′s fastball and a hard slider which is an above average big league pitch. A remnant from his college days, Johnson also mixes in a curveball and a developing changeup. With a 6’4 235 pound frame, he has a fortified pitchers frame and his smooth and repeatable delivery should only add to his durability.
The White Sox are bottom feeders now, but they are moving in the right direction. Rookies Matt Davidson and Jose Abreu should vastly improve the lineup and if Johnson can slot in nicely behind lefthanders Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, their rotation could be a strength as well.