I was both intrigued and impressed when I saw Erik Johnson pitch this past Spring Training at the Chicago White Sox camp in Glendale, Ariz.
Johnson is a strong, wide-bodied right-handed starting pitcher the White Sox selected out of the University of California-Berkeley in the second round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.
Johnson, who is ranked No. 2 by MLB.com among the White Sox Top 20 Prospects, earned his starting role at Berkeley following a highly successful high school career at Los Altos High School (Calif.). He was a three-time All-State selection, compiling 113 strikeouts as a senior.
At 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, Johnson can be very intimidating on the mound. His solid build provides the first impression for the hitter. Then the reality of a very deep and effective repertoire of swing-and-miss pitches takes over.
Johnson has a wealth of pitches he throws for strikes. He uses his four-seam and sinking fastballs to set up very effective secondary pitches that include a curveball, slider, changeup and a wicked cut fastball. The cutter might be the most explosive pitch of his arsenal.
Throughout his Minor League career, Johnson has thrown strikes. He has shown consistently good command and control, with an average of 2.7 walks and 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings in his three seasons, the first of which included only two innings in the Pioneer Rookie League.
Johnson's 2012 season was delayed a bit by shoulder issues that were resolved by June. He made 17 starts that included nine at Class A Kannapolis in the South Atlantic League and eight more after being promoted to Class A Advanced Winston-Salem in the Carolina League. Combined, he threw 92 1/3 innings, pitching to a sparkling 2.53 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. He gave up fewer hits (82) than innings pitched.
I recall buzz this past Spring Training of Johnson possibly making the White Sox starting rotation. It didn't happen.
Instead, Johnson threw 84 2/3 innings at Double-A Birmingham, recording an 8-2 record with a 2.23 ERA and 0.92 WHIP. He struck out 74 and walked 21. His performance took him to Triple-A Charlotte.
Combined this season at the White Sox two highest classifications, Johnson had a 12-3 record with a 1.96 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP. Those numbers earned him a recent September callup to the big league club.
Johnson made his Major League debut on Sept. 4. He faced the Yankees and lost the game, pitching six innings and allowing five runs, though only three were earned.
Many more starting opportunities appear to be in Johnson's future.
When I saw Johnson last spring, he wasn't as smooth in his delivery as he is becoming with maturity and excellent coaching. Basically, he got out of sync, losing a consistent release point. That caused some wild spurts that he corrected. Because he has natural life on his pitches, repeating his delivery will be key to using that movement to his advantage.
During Spring Training and throughout this past season, White Sox personnel worked closely with Johnson to build a solid mechanical pitching foundation from which he can progress.
Johnson projects to become an integral part of the White Sox future starting rotation. He can become a middle-of-the-rotation starter by continuing to refine his repertoire, learning to sequence pitches according to the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition, and consistently working to repeat a good delivery.
He should get additional starts this season to carry him to Spring Training, serving as a springboard for success in 2014.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff; on Twitter.