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First impressions: White Sox prospects Erik Johnson and Scott Snodgress

Take a gander at the Chicago White Sox's two best starting pitching prospects

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday's webcast of the White Sox's 2-2 tie with the Dodgers afforded us a look at the Sox's top two starting pitching prospects, Erik Johnson and Scott Snodgress.

It's impossible to get a significant read of their abilities from one early spring game. Neither team's hitters were able to really pull the ball -- Alex Rios' triple and Adam Dunn's homer both went the other way -- so the Dodgers might not have been up to speed against a young pitcher trying to make an impression.

Johnson pitched the first three innings, and came away with a pretty good line (3 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 2 K), whatever that's worth. And it isn't much.

That said, Johnson took care of what he could control, attacking the strike zone and working through command problems. He spent most of the time pitching out of the stretch because leadoff hitters reached all three innings, but it didn't seem to throw him off.

It's hard to gauge his fastball on its merits alone -- there was no radar gun, and nobody could turn around heat on Sunday. On the other hand, we got a good look at his curveball, the most polished of his secondary pitches. His first-inning strikeout of Hanley Ramirez on a slider away was set up by a 1-1 curve Ramirez could only nub foul.

I don't have a GIF of that one, but when Ramirez saw the curve again in his second at-bat, he couldn't fare any better (click to watch):


Johnson's biggest problem on Sunday was his fastball command, as it started to flag in the third inning. After that curve put two strikes on Ramirez, Gimenez called for a fastball up and away. Johnson missed the high target with a thigh-high header, and Ramirez singled to center for an RBI.

(Silver lining: The Sox executed to perfection after Johnson didn't. Gordon Beckham tried deking the runner at second by pretending to snag the grounder, then ran to cover first as Adam Dunn cut off Blake Tekotte's on-target throw from center. Dunn then caught Ramirez rounding first too casually, firing to Beckham in time for the tag and the third out.)

But Johnson did show resilience with his fastball one inning before. Perhaps his most impressive moment took place against Yasiel Puig, the Dodgers' high-profile Cuban investment and Baseball America's No. 47 prospect. Johnson fell behind him 3-0, but came back with four straight fastballs. The first was a get-me-over, but the next three were pitchers' pitchers that Puig could barely touch.

On the eighth pitch, Johnson went to a slider. The location was up and over the plate. Fortunately for Johnson, it was effectively high and thrown with enough conviction for Puig to swing and miss for strike three.


It wasn't an easy outing, but he threw well enough to make it count. Robin Ventura took notice of the way Johnson battled:

"He had some moments there where he battled through it," Ventura said of Johnson. "I don’t think it was his best stuff, but you are impressed with being able to get through it and get out of some jams."

Johnson, meanwhile, has the humble rookie act down pat.


As for Snodgress, he only pitched one inning, but it was enough to get an idea how he shot up the prospect charts from last season to this one, even though he's still years away from reaching the majors.

Snodgress walked two batters over his inning of work, overthrowing his fastball and struggling with the release point. He's still a work in progress when it comes to mechanics, so that'll happen.

But he joined Johnson in victimizing Puig for his first spring strikeout. Puig could very well be an easy target this time of year, but Snodgress' sequence was filthy. He made four good pitches, and none of them were fastballs.

In the interest of load times, here are pitches No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3, which set up the punchout pitch below. For those who are susceptible to motion sickness, the center-field camera was blown around by high winds the whole inning: