After a few middling starts, Erik Johnson got back on his phoenix-like path last night: 7 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 9 K. It also marked his highest innings total this season, as well as pitch count (104). Endurance-wise, he's essentially just about where he needs to be. Those middling starts coincided with his pitch count jump to mid-90s and above so we may be looking back at those starts as growing pains instead of a cause for concern. But, of course, with Johnson everything good he does is going to be met with heightened skepticism while everything bad he does is magnified. Suffice to say, though, his stuff continues to look like major league stuff. With Carlos Rodon in the rotation, Johnson's best near-term opportunity for a call-up may be in the bullpen. If Jake Petricka doesn't get back on track soon, Johnson might be an answer for a right-handed set-up role.
In "Names You Should Know", LHP Jordan Guerrero is gathering helium as he torches the Sally League. Here's what Baseball America had to say:
Age: 20. Acquired: Selected in 15th round of 2012 draft from Moorpark (Calif.) High.
The White Sox valued Guerrero enough to sign the 15th-rounder for $100,000 in 2012, but a shoulder injury scuttled much of his 2013 season, and he worked primarily as a reliever in 2014 as he recovered. With the help of a new changeup grip, the lefthander has transitioned to the rotation this season and taken the South Atlantic League by storm—he leads the circuit with 42 strikeouts and 40 innings. Guerrero pitches in the low 90s and throws the best changeup in the White Sox system, so he sure doesn’t look like a fluke.
Since that was written, he's up to 50 strikeouts in 46 innings. The changeup has certainly been a revelation. Previously, it was basically an average pitch but without much deception. That will still get a lot of hitters out in Low-A but isn't enough for the upper levels. Now when he releases it, it's much more difficult to identify it out of his hand as a changeup. His third pitch, a curveball, is still below-average but its development is not nearly the priority a changeup is for a lefty. Of course, he'll need a decent third pitch if he wants to be a starter long-term but he's now made that possibility a lot more realistic.
I'll wrap this up with a third pitcher, RHP Frankie Montas. Baseball Prospectus has started an interesting, infrequent series on "controversial prospects", i.e., those who elicit widely divergent opinions from scouts. Here's, in part, what two scouts with opposite opinions had to say about the 22-year-old:
High Scout: "A strikeout artist who can also give you 200 innings ceiling, and lights-out-closer floor."
Low Scout: "At his best, I think Montas becomes a solid mid-rotation starter, or maybe a really nice set-up man. At his worst, he’s a swing man or long reliever."
That’s a pretty big difference in ceiling and floor; easily the biggest I’ve seen in these differing opinion pieces. And while I’m higher on Montas than the low scout, it’s easy to understand why he has reservations. Yes, the arm strength is impressive and the slider is another potential out pitch, but the only thing that’s consistent for Montas is the fastball. The improvement he’s made over the past few years is impressive though, and assuming he’s not done developing, he has a chance to join a very talented White Sox rotation in the next two years.
My opinion on Montas is well-established so I won't belabor that. Reading between the lines in the rest of the article, it sounded like the Low Scout hadn't seen Montas in 2015, as his reference points were how Montas looked for Kanny in 2013 and then how Montas looked in the 2014 Arizona Fall League. The Low Scout was, well, low(er) on his slider. I think if the scout had seen Montas this season, he would have been a bit more impressed, as it's been sharper than last season. The command/control are issues are still very real and his 9.6% walk rate this season is not something you want to see from a starter, even if it does come with a 20%+ strikeout rate.
Injury Update: C Kevan Smith rolled his ankle on slide at home plate and was placed on the DL. 1B Keon Barnum also is on the DL because, well, that's what he does. INF Tyler Saladino appears to be close to a return to Charlotte after rehabbing his sore shoulder in extended spring training.