If you're wary of Hawk Harrelson hyping Micah Johnson ("He's a game-changer!"), you might want to steel yourself, because a Futures Game appearance is only going to speed up the bandwagon.
Major League Baseball released the Futures Game rosters on Tuesday, and the White Sox will be represented by Johnson on the U.S. side, and Frank Montas on the World team.
Depending on how you view Johnson, it's either the latest feather in his cap, or it's even more premature attention for a prospect whose all-around potential still requires plenty of patience.
There is a healthy overlap between the two sides on this Venn diagram. Johnson's a legit prospect , and he's handled the White Sox' preferred rapid-promotion schedule admirably thus far. Charlotte, his fourth level since the start of the 2013 season, has posed the biggest challenge yet, but he's showing signs of figuring it out after a slow start, hitting .389 (14-for-36) over his last seven games.
That said, he still has to improve his production (.279/.306/.365) against the most polished pitching he's faced yet ... while trying to stick at second base ... and adjusting to better batteries. Harrelson repeatedly cites Johnson's minors-leading 84 steals in 2013, but he hasn't mentioned that Johnson's just 14-for-23 in that department between Birmingham and Charlotte this year. Basically, he doesn't have the resume of an "untouchable" player, but that's how he's billed by some around the Sox.
Johnson's boosters will say he's got the goods to tackle whatever's thrown at him, as he's used to responding to challenges. His speed gives him a huge natural advantage, but he's shaping up the rest of his game, too:
"Billy [Hamilton] gets labeled as a base-stealer and that’s what he is," Newman said. "I think Micah is a guy who is trying to make himself into a complete player. Micah’s turned himself into the type of guy that can put a team on his back and just go."
That would be great for obvious reasons ... and also because the White Sox' recent Futures Game participants haven't made themselves a major part of their future games.
- 2013: Andre Rienzo and Josh Phegley
- 2012: Carlos Sanchez
- 2011: Gregory Infante and Dayan Viciedo
- 2010: Daniel Hudson
- 2009: Viciedo and Tyler Flowers
- 2008: Clayton Richard and Chris Getz
- 2007: Fautino De Los Santos
- 2006: Josh Fields and Anderson Gomes
- 2005: Bobby Jenks and Chris Young
- 2004: Arnie Munoz
- 2003: Neal Cotts
- 2002: Joe Borchard and Edwin Almonte
- 2001: Borchard and Miguel Olivo
- 2000: Jon Garland and Aaron Myette
- 1999: Myette and Kip Wells
This list doesn't quite reflect the Sox' total ability to find young talent. For instance, Gavin Floyd and John Danks were on the same Futures Game roster, just for different organizations. The rules affected the selection process, too. There was nothing worthy about Gomes, but he made the roster because the organizers used to place a priority on covering as many countries as possible, and he was a rare Brazilian.
(It's not all bad news -- the list underscores why you shouldn't sleep on Sanchez. He made the Futures Game two years ago, but he's only 21 years old now.)
Another instructive name on that list is De Los Santos, because he's comparable to Montas, at least regarding the stage of his development. In 2007, a 21-year-old De Los Santos climbed the White Sox prospect lists with overwhelming performances at Kannapolis and Winston-Salem. This season, a 21-year-old Montas has used the Carolina League as his springboard to minor-league acclaim (1.64 ERA, 51 strikeouts, 51 baserunners over 55 innings).
As De Los Santos' career has shown, there's a lot that can happen between High-A and the big leagues. The same can be said for Johnson when compared to the position players on the list, all of whom were closer to the big leagues than Winston-Salem, but couldn't (or haven't been able to) stick as starters.
The White Sox want to engineer their turnaround from the inside out, and their roster of Futures Game participants will have to improve for that vision to come to fruition. But hey -- if Johnson is the game-changer Harrelson and many others believe he will be, this list could end up being the first place he made a measurable difference.