Seemingly everybody around the Sox has been bullish about Johnson's stock since he led the minor leagues in steals last year. He attended SoxFest, he hung around big-league camp at spring training, and Hawk Harrelson has given him the C.J. Retherford treatment, singling him out during every minor league update, and giving him labels like a "game-changer" and the fastest man in baseball.
(Besides the fact that Harrelson doesn't watch the National League and therefore won't acknowledge Billy Hamilton, Johnson's only 10-for-17 in stolen bases this year.)
Given this environment, when Johnson was promoted from Birmingham to Charlotte on Tuesday, the hypotheticals started flying, and the reverberations rattled all the way up to Gordon Beckham, who once again had to answer questions about the growing number of possible successors lining up at second base.
Rick Hahn likes to remind everybody that development isn't linear, and that's something worth keeping in mind with Johnson, who has trace amounts of hydrogen in his stock right now. He hit .329/.414/.466 at Birmingham, all of which is outstanding -- but it's a tad front-loaded:
- April: .365/.450/.531
- May: .255/.321/.319
Not that it's anything to worry about, in and of itself. Chances are this is plain ol' regression -- if Johnson's overall line was a revelation, he's certainly not a natural .365 hitter in his first full season at Double-A.
It's worth pointing out the split, though, just to raise the possibility that the jump in levels might catch him during a lull in his game. On top of that, last season showed that he may need a lengthy adjustment period after receiving a promotion (although perhaps some of the second half fade was due to his elbow). And that's all before bringing up his glovework, which is still error-prone.
This all reads like a cold shower, but I prefer to think of it as emotional regression. His fine performance at Birmingham hasn't forced anybody's hand with the 25-man roster yet. A slow start at Charlotte isn't going to mean all that much, either. And if he hits the ground running (and hitting) with the Knights, he'll still have to make progress with things like defense, and hitting lefties. Time's on his side, because he's just 23 and playing in his third pro season.
If anything, it'll probably place pressure on whoever ends up on Charlotte if and when Jeff Keppinger completes his rehab stint. Right now, three position-player prospects snap into place:
- 2B: Micah Johnson
- SS: Carlos Sanchez
- 3B: Matt Davidson
If Semien loses his spot on the 25-man roster to Keppinger -- and it's easier to argue for it now, because the bench arrangement isn't agreeing with his development -- it'll get messier, but it'll probably remain manageable. You could see Semien rotate between the positions, with the DH spot used for whoever isn't in the field that day.
Another intriguing possibility: If Johnson's defense remains further away from the majors than his bat, the Sox could try to ease him into left field. He won't have to be all that great to be better than their corner play now.
There are plenty of permutations that should make the competition rather intense, and a lot of fun to follow. But it's all happening independent of Beckham. While they're all ballplayers, Beckham isn't a part of this peer group, for better (he's a legitimate MLB player) or worse (his OPS has plateaued below .700 in his penultimate arb year). It's a different plane of existence, which is why it doesn't make much sense to worry about the pile of prospects. There are teams that can use him once the market shapes up. He'll have a job as long as he is what he is, even if the Sox decide to move on to what might be.