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."