When the White Sox decided to bring Micah Johnson to Chicago with them to start at second base, they hoped that he might be able to act as a leadoff man for the leadoff man. The ninth spot in the order would intrinsically reduce expectations for Johnson, but if he proved to be a quick study, he'd give Adam Eaton and Melky Cabrera an extra guy to move around the basepaths.
That vision hasn't exactly come to life over the first eight games:
And when you stack the performances like that, it seems unfair to single out Johnson for any underperformance.
But we know it's different for Johnson for a few key reasons.
- He's a rookie.
- He's has potential replacements.
- He's mistake-prone defensively.
That last one looms largest, because while the numbers aren't there, he doesn't look particularly overmatched at this point. He should probably be hitting more grounders than he is (36 percent), but a good chunk of the flyouts and lineouts haven't been of the lazy variety.
Then again, he's also seen fastballs for 71 percent of his pitches, which is the highest on the team. It's possible that as soon as he starts doing something with major league heat, the league might switch to something else and set him back some more.
Whatever the case, the discussion of his production will have to stop being purely hypothetical shortly. Right now, one can look at his output and think, "Pfffffft ... Carlos Sanchez can top that." That's a problem for Johnson, because you when you look at him in the field, one can think, "Pffffffft ... Carlos Sanchez probably would've had that."
And if one thinks both of those things often enough, one wonders why Sanchez isn't playing instead.
The difference in defense is noticeable. I'm sure part of it's because we know their reputations, but when Johnson stalks a grounder with his glove flipped to the backhand side, it looks like he's trying to put a lid over a grease fire.
That play came to mind when watching Carlos Rodon's start on Thursday night, as Sanchez did his damndest on a jam-job over the mound:
(In full disclosure, Sanchez had two errors after that. The first was on a nearly identical play up the middle -- he snagged it with his glove, but his throw went high and wide. The second was a feed to short with which Leury Garcia didn't qualify for the neighborhood play.)
The disparity extends beyond a two-game sample. When you look at Johnson's (limited) MLB.com highlights page, almost all of his defensive gems are range-based -- diving or sliding for grounders, line drives, pop-ups, etc. The plays that involve good hands -- barehanded or glove-to-hand -- are nowhere to be found.
If Johnson were getting on base at a league-average clip and using his speed well, the gaffes could be considered part of the assimilation process. But he's got a .250 OBP and he's made three outs on the basepaths, which are the primary reasons why he has yet to score his first major league run.
I made my case for Sanchez over Johnson for the near future at the end of spring training, and this is what I was getting at. Johnson has the materials to make a good pro (Keith Law said on Thursday that he's a believer), but without having yet developed a dependable MLB skill, he could dig a hole for himself and others out of the gate, and I'd rather my rookie second basemen abide by primum non nocere.
It's not too late to make the switch, but I can't get any sense about whether a referendum is even being considered at this time. I understand that the White Sox shouldn't yank them around without conveying a clear understanding of what's needed, and the respectability of Johnson's individual plate appearances could mean that a big series is around the corner, and he'll be better than treading water by next week.
Drawing David Price and Anibal Sanchez in the first two games of a three-pack in Detroit stacks the odds against it happening this weekend, and while that's excusable on an individual level, it turns into a theme where everything can be waved away, even if its effects on the scoreboard are very real. Being aware of and empathetic with rookie shortcomings doesn't stop them from draining value, and when the team as a whole makes missteps in the first weeks, the last thing they need is more bad footwork.