White Sox

White Sox reverse course, send Micah Johnson to Triple-A

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White Sox reverse course, send Micah Johnson to Triple-A

In a surprising reversal, the White Sox have sent Micah Johnson to Triple-A Charlotte on Thursday.

The club, which is off today after it won the second of three games in Milwaukee on Wednesday night, announced the move two days after saying they would stay patient with their rookie second baseman despite his early struggles. Fellow rookie Carlos Sanchez, 22, is expected to join the team Friday on the road when it begins a three-game series against the Oakland A’s.

While Johnson has fared well at the plate, his defensive play and base running isn’t at the level the White Sox want.

[MORE WHITE SOX: White Sox option 2B Micah Johnson to Triple-A]

“Obviously from an offensive standpoint, (Johnson) was contributing,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “But from a defensive standpoint, he wasn’t quite as consistent play-to-play as we needed him to be at the big league level and as we expect him to be in the future. He also had a couple of questionable baserunning decisions, which I think is a part of being young and things, much like the defensive side of things, will get ironed out with repetition.”

On Tuesday, Hahn gave Johnson, who has a .270/.333/.297 slash line in 83 plate appearances, a public vote of confidence, noting the club needs to produce its own talent on an annual basis to sustain success.

But in that night’s game, Johnson, who is last among 23 qualified second baseman with minus-8 Defensive Runs Saved, according to fangraphs.com, dropped a pickoff throw. He also ran into an out at third base, the third time he has run into one this season along with a pickoff and two times caught stealing in five tries. Tuesday’s performance came on the heels of a play Monday where Johnson and shortstop Alexei Ramirez didn’t convert what appeared to be an easy double play, which cost Jeff Samardzija an extra run in a 10-7 loss.

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

“We’re not going to show all our cards, or reveal that we’re going to make a change in the coming days,” Hahn said. “I don’t think that’s real productive to maximize a player’s performance. At the same time, we have consistent conversations with our players about where they sit and what we’re expecting. And while I’m sure Micah was disappointed with the ultimate decision, I don’t think he was surprised that it was a possibility or didn’t foresee it as a possibility.”

Though Johnson entered spring training as the favorite to win the starting job, Sanchez made himself a strong option as he produced a .425/.489/.425 slash line with six RBIs in 45 plate appearances. The performance was good enough to earn Sanchez a spot on the Opening Day roster.

Sanchez, who is thought of as a glove-first infielder, has proven he's a capable defender during his short time in the majors. He also carried over his hot start at the plate to Charlotte, where he hit 344/.368/.466 with two homers and 17 RBIs and was twice named the International League player of the week.

[MORE WHITE SOX: Jose Quintana pushes White Sox to a much-needed 2015 first]

Sanchez, who already has 107 major league plate appearances is expected to take over as the starting second baseman while Gordon Beckham and Emilio Bonifacio stay in their utility roles, Hahn said.

“Carlos is going to bring a little bit more defensive consistency,” Hahn said. “Solid base running. He’ll be a tough out for us. He’s going to help stabilize that position.

“We do like the fact that he is a kid that got an extended taste last year and that at the start of the year he got beat out for his job, but as opposed to hanging his head, he went down and worked his tail off and obviously had a great amount of success.”

Hahn believes Johnson, 24, is capable of success in the majors. He compared the move to the demotions of Aaron Rowand and Joe Crede and said Johnson just needs more repetition.

“We still think (Johnson) has a very bright future and he’s going to have a long and successful big league career,” Hahn said. “There are just some elements of his game that we want him to work on consistently at the minor league level and get ironed out prior to having him back in Chicago.”

This is an interesting development, given what Hahn said Tuesday:

"There’s a balance. It’s important for us to build something sustainable to introduce our own young talent on a pretty much annual basis. The Braves did that on that long run of theirs, every year adding a homegrown piece that became a mainstay to their core as it evolved. That’s where we want to get to. We anticipate and hope we’re going to follow a model like that and have our own homegrown talent integrated in. At no point do we expect those guys to carry the load, so to speak. So our expectations for Micah and Carlos now in the rotation is on Day 1, you have to show up and you’re responsible for this. It’s a matter of performing up to their ability and showing progress and our ability to project out that they’re going to be the type of player their capable of being and they’re best served doing that at the big league level.

 

"It is a good problem to have. We’d much rather have options, especially at premium positions and Carlos is doing a great job. If and when the need arises in Chicago, we know that Carlos at the very least will provide quality defense and be a tough out. There’s some elements of Micah’s game you can’t replicate. The pressure he puts on a defense in the way he’s able to disrupt a pitcher’s rhythm which helps the hitters behind him when he’s on base. Which is why he’s here now and he’s the right guy."

Lucas Giolito relieved to be able to shed No. 1 pitching prospect label

Lucas Giolito relieved to be able to shed No. 1 pitching prospect label

GLENDALE, AZ — You don’t need a scale to see that Lucas Giolito lost some weight in the offseason. As he walks around Camelback Ranch, he just seems lighter. These pounds were shedded thanks to a certain label that has been detached from his name and his being.

“Lucas Giolito, number-one pitching prospect in baseball” is no more.

“Definitely. Big time relief. I carried that title for a while,” Giolito told NBC Sports Chicago. “It was kind of up and down. I was (ranked) 1 at one point. I dropped. I always paid attention to it a little bit moving through the minor leagues.”

Which for any young hurler is risky business. The “best pitching prospect” designation can mess with a pitcher’s psyche and derail a promising career. Giolito was walking a mental tightrope reading those rankings, but after making it back to the majors last season with the White Sox and succeeding, the moniker that seemed to follow him wherever he went has now vanished.

“Looking back on it, that stuff is pretty cool," Giolito said. "It can pump you up and make you feel good about yourself, but in the end the question is, what are you going to do at the big league level? Can you contribute to a team? I’m glad that I finally have the opportunity to do that and all that other stuff is in the rear view."

This wasn’t the case when the White Sox acquired Giolito from the Washington Nationals in the Adam Eaton trade in December 2016. When he arrived at spring training last year, he was carrying around tons of extra baggage in his brain that was weighing him down. Questions about his ability and makeup weren’t helping as he tried living up to such high expectations.

“Yeah, I’d say especially with the trade coming off 2016 where I didn’t perform well at all that year," Giolito said. "I got traded over to a new organization, I still have this label on me of being a top pitching prospect while I’m going to a new place, I’m trying to impress people but at the same time I had a lot of things off mechanically I was trying to fix. Mentally, I was not in the best place as far as pitching went. It definitely added some extra pressure that I didn’t deal with well for a while."

How bad was it for Giolito? Here are some of the thoughts that were scrambling his brain during spring training and beyond last season.

“I saw I wasn’t throwing as hard. I was like, ’Where did my velocity go?’ Oh, it’s my mechanics. My mechanics are bad. I need to fix those,” Giolito said. “Then I’m trying to make adjustments. Why can’t I make this adjustment? It compounds. It just builds and builds and builds and can weigh on you a ton. I was 22 turning 23 later in the year. I didn’t handle it very well. I put a lot of pressure on myself to fix all these different things about my performance, my pitching and trying to do it all in one go instead of just relaxing and remembering, ‘Hey, what am I here for? Why do I play the game?’”

Still, pitching coach Don Cooper wanted to see what he had in his young prospect. So last February, he scheduled him to make his White Sox debut against the Cubs in front of a packed house in Mesa.

“It was kind of like a challenge," Giolito said. "They fill the stadium over there. I’m like, ‘Alright here we go."

Giolito gave up one run, three hits, walked one and struck out two in two innings against the Cubs that day.

“I pitched OK," he said. "I think I gave up a home run to Addison Russell. At the same time, I remember that game like I was forcing things. I might have pitched okay, but I was forcing the ball over the plate instead of relaxing, trusting and letting it happen which is kind of my mantra now. I’m saying that all the time, just having confidence in yourself and letting it go.”

A conversation in midseason with Charlotte Knights pitching coach Steve McCatty, suggested by Cooper, helped turn Giolito’s season around. The lesson for Giolito: whatever you have on the day you take the mound is what you have. Don’t force what isn’t there.

Fortunately for Giolito he has extra pitches in his arsenal, so if the curveball isn’t working (which it rarely did when he came up to the majors last season) he can go to his change-up, fastball, slider, etc.

It’s all part of the learning process, both on the mound and off it. Setbacks are coming. Giolito has already had his share. More will be on the way.

“You want to set expectations for yourself. You want to try and achieve great goals,” he said. “At the same time, it is a game of failure. There’s so much that you have to learn through experience whether that be success or failure. Especially going through the minor leagues. There’s so much that you have to learn and a lot of it is about development. It’s a crazy ride for sure.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Rick Hahn gives an update on the state of the White Sox rebuild

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Rick Hahn gives an update on the state of the White Sox rebuild

In this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, Danny Parkins (670 The Score), Chris Bleck (ESPN 1000) and Scott King (WGN Radio) join David Kaplan on the panel.

Ryan Pace’s offseason begins. Josh Sitton and Jerrell Freeman are gone, but what will he do with Kyle Fuller?

Plus, Rick Hahn joins Kap from Glendale, Ariz., to discuss the state of the White Sox rebuild, how tough it is to keep their best prospects in the minors and why Jose Abreu is so important for his young team?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: