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Johnson, Semien excited for future with White Sox

CHICAGO -- Having Erik Johnson and Marcus Semien make phone calls to White Sox season-ticket holders Thursday afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field seemed only fitting.

After all, it's Johnson, Semien and the rest of this young White Sox talent core that the team is selling to its fans.

"I hope we can be that," said Semien about being at the heart of the White Sox reshaping process. "We all have to do our part as young players. You all have to put your head down and get to work, keep your mouth shut and just let your game speak for itself."

"For me, I think it's something to be thankful for," Johnson said. "Hopefully I'll take this great opportunity and do everything I can with it."

Two important things took place because of the White Sox 99-loss effort last season, amidst a 2013 campaign that featured the team out of contention by July. General manager Rick Hahn began this reshaping process early, picking up Avisail Garcia at the non-waiver Trade Deadline in a three-team deal that sent Jake Peavy to the Red Sox, and prospects such as Johnson and Semien received a big league chance maybe earlier than originally projected.

Johnson and Semien certainly earned those opportunities.

Over 24 starts made between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte, the 24-year-old Johnson posted a 12-3 record with a 1.96 ERA and produced 131 strikeouts against 100 hits and 40 walks in 142 innings. He followed up that showing with a 3-2 record and a 3.25 ERA in five White Sox starts, beginning with a six-inning Major League debut at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 4.

Semien, 23, finished with 661 at-bats and 784 plate appearances in 2013 when factoring in stops for the Barons, Knights, White Sox and in the Arizona Fall League. It was a long season for the infielder, who wanted to spend extra time with his family after losing his grandmother this year. Semien's offseason respite came on the heels of tremendous personal accomplishment, including 110 runs scored and a .401 on-base percentage at the Minor League level, and a .261 average in 21 games with the White Sox.

"It was a great year for me, personally. It was a great year for Birmingham, winning the [Southern League] championship. I feel like I had a part in that, being there most of the year," Semien said. "The September callup was a dream come true.

"After playing in Chicago, I went to the Fall League. I didn't hit as well as I would have liked to, but I met a lot of new players and learned a lot, learned a lot on defense, also. I just try to take every positive I can from that experience. I want to remember I had a great year, no matter how it ended."

Even with that strong impression made by Semien, he enters Spring Training on the roster bubble. The White Sox will want him to play every day, and with just 142 plate appearance at the Triple-A level, starting the season with the Knights certainly wouldn't be a demotion.

The focus for Semien simply is to play baseball and control what he can control. Johnson has an early lock on the fourth-starter's spot, but he won't let that outlook or his 2013 success change his focus.

"Just the next start, prepare for your next start," Johnson said. "That's all you can control. You control what you do that day."

"I'm happy to be wherever I'm playing, because I feel blessed," Semien said. "We're all blessed, as baseball players, to be playing this game, especially to make a living at it."

Thursday's sales calls served as a precursor to this weekend's SoxFest, beginning late afternoon Friday at the Palmer House Hilton. Semien and Johnson will be there, as will Micah Johnson, Adam Eaton, Jose Abreu, Garcia and Josh Phegley -- also known as part of the young core.

SoxFest marks an exciting time for these players, a weekend that gives these players a chance to interact with fans who they hope will be watching them for years to come.

"Growing up, I didn't have the opportunity to go to something like this. I'm really excited about it," Semien said. "I'm trying to meet a lot of new people, a lot of fans, trying to interact.

"Hopefully they enjoy what we have to say to them and what we're doing with them. Hopefully they can come out to U.S. Cellular because of what we did here."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin.
Read More: Chicago White Sox, Erik Johnson, Marcus Semien