The redemptive tale of Erik Johnson altering his mechanics and reviving his career hit a very troubling snag Monday.
1. Johnson was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte along with Tyler Danish and Steve Lombardozzi, and making it nowhere near the final roster cuts in his bid for the fifth starter slot; a race in which he was virtually unopposed at the start of February.
Worse yet, Mat Latos hasn’t exactly rolled in and restored his halcyon days; he won’t even make his full Cactus League debut until Tuesday afternoon. This demotion is about Johnson, who is at least commanding his secondaries better than last September even if they haven’t regained much bite, but had his sloppy mechanics return and his velocity lag through the Spring.
Don Cooper was charitable, saying he was happy with Johnson’s progress and that his main issue is with fastball command, and that this move is about letting Latos and Johnson have the most time to prepare for where the organization plans to have them start their season. But this is a phenomenally weak back-end of a rotation to get forced out of with weeks left in Spring camp.
Johnson has completely mastered Triple-A and is 26-years-old, so a very quick once-over makes his career look unfairly stalled; someone for whom a #FreeErikJohnson campaign would get launched a few years back due to his burly minor league stats and how they projected to major league action without context. The visuals of Johnson don’t match, however, and he just doesn’t flash an area where he excels at the major league level, be it bat-missing stuff, control or sinking action.
2. For contrast, Cooper is far less reserved and measured when talking about 2015 first-round pick Carson Fulmer, whom he claimed is ahead of where Carlos Rodon was his development path at this point in his career…the same Rodon whose major league experience relative to how recently he was drafted is beyond any recent comparison.
One interpretation of this could be that the only way for Fulmer to be more advanced than Rodon is to break camp with the team, since Rodon debuted in May the year after he was drafted. Another could be that Rodon was still very raw when he got called up to the major leagues and subsisted off pure tools without being able to throw a changeup or a strike, and this isn’t really the ideal path for Fulmer, even if Cooper likes his cutter and changeup with all of his heart.
He’s not actually going to break camp with the team, but with Mau Rubio of 2080 Baseball suggesting him starting in Triple-A as a real possibility, Fulmer could easily leapfrog Johnson as the next option in the rotation down from the Latos-John Danks pairing even before the All-Star Break. It sounds like desperation, but the Sox’ strength lies in quickly enabling polished college arms to compete against major league hitters. A rushed Fulmer is a much better bet to boost their team ceiling than Tim Anderson being rushed to aid a broken situation at shortstop, and Johnson doesn’t look like he’ll boost the ceiling much at all.
3. Speaking of starting shortstop, it’s probably Jimmy Rollins?
“Robin Ventura says he knows who will be the White Sox starting shortstop in Oakland… He declined to tell us today.”
Rollins has higher upside (so to speak), pedigree, veteran status, etc. The White Sox should want him to win the job, as he provides the most offensive potential and allows Tyler Saladino to slide into a super-sub role for which he is better suited.
Saladino winning would be contingent on Rollins being obviously toast in Spring and the Sox just deciding to concede the affair and punt the position offensively. That would not be a decision to rush to with this much time left, whereas deciding that Rollins looks healthy and fresh, and should just prepare for a starter role would be. Ken Rosenthal has a piece detailing how Rollins is hopeful that adjusting to the shifts being thrown at him was behind his offensive uptick after a slow start in 2015.
On the other hand, Tyler Saladino is murdering the ball (.286/.375/.810 in Cactus League). This means nothing, but declaring a position battle over and done while a guy is lighting up the place reveals the whole enterprise to be a sham, and maybe that’s why Ventura is silent right now.
4. The post-Drake LaRoche era has begun in earnest.
“Today was the first day since Tuesday without a single question about Adam LaRoche, Drake LaRoche or the clubhouse.”
This is half the players being more or less sworn into secrecy by ownership and half the beats having mined what they could out of the locker room, save for testing how angrily they could get someone to decline comment. That doesn’t mean the well is entirely dry, though, since Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell had wonderful insight on LaRoche in a Q&A session with readers.
“This is a tough one because LaRoche is such an extreme case. He’s not like anybody else in baseball — or any other sport. Adam is a very nice man to talk to. Absolutely sincere. But he thinks it’s still 1858. If LaRoche had been along with DiCaprio in The Revenant, it would have been a buddy-trip comedy. That’s what LaRoche would consider a routine off-season Camping Trip.
Tons of players have brought their kids into clubhouse. But, as far as I know, not 100 per cent of the time — or anything like it. I’ve never seen a player make his son, now 14 years old, into the 26th man on the team with a locker of his own. That’s just as “unusual” as it appears, in my book.”
There’s actually so much more Boswell got into on LaRoche, so go read it.
5. And definitely DEFINITELY read Eno Sarris at FanGraphs pinpointing a single foul ball that Paul Konerko hit off Zack Greinke in 2009 as a checkpoint in the development of his post-2010 approach that rejuvenated his career.
Not only could you make a book out of just Konerko discussing hitting and the adjustments he made through his career, you could probably get all the quotes out of him that you needed in a single weekend.
Lead Photo Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski // USA Today Sports Images