The Chicago White Sox drafted Erik Johnson during the second round of the 2011 MLB draft, and the big right-hander has paid immediate dividends. Johnson stands at 6-foot-3, 240 pounds with a fastball that touches 96 mph and a slider that registers at 90. According to Baseball America, Johnson’s “slider is a potential plus pitch, with depth and bite, and his curveball is nearly as good.”
Armed with that kind of an arsenal, it’s no surprise that Johnson has dominated at every level of the minors so far. With full seasons at high-A, double-A and triple-A, he has never recorded an ERA above 2.75 and has a cumulative ERA of 2.41 in 236 innings pitched. Johnson does not have elite command, but he gets the job done, posting a 3.14 career K/BB ratio in the minors to go along with a 1.08 WHIP.
Johnson was rewarded with a late-season call to the big leagues and while he did not excel, he held his own with a 3.25 ERA, 5.40 FIP and 4.73 xFIP in 27.2 innings pitched. After getting his feet wet last year, Johnson can expect a full season’s workload in the starting rotation for the White Sox in 2014.
When the White Sox traded Hector Santiago in the three-team deal that netted them center fielder Adam Eaton, Johnson was virtually guaranteed a spot in the starting rotation. Currently, the White Sox have Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and John Danks as their top three starting pitchers. Before the trade, Santiago was projected as the fourth starter with Johnson slated to duke it out with Andre Rienzo and Charlie Leesman for the fifth rotation spot.
While Johnson likely would have won that battle outright, there is no chance that Rienzo and Leesman will both jump ahead of him in the starting rotation. Rienzo was awful in his time with the White Sox last year, and Leesman was even worse. Johnson will need to prove this spring that he belongs in the rotation, and he should have no problem doing that.