Prospect Johnson's speed an intriguing asset
I must admit that, as a scout, I am very intrigued by players with speed.
I believe speed is a game-changing weapon. Speed forces defensive errors. Speed results in more caution in pitchers, often causing changes in pitch sequences and control that benefit hitters. Oftentimes, pitchers pay too much attention to potential basestealers and not enough attention to the hitter.
In the first week of the Arizona Fall League, I saw a considerable amount of speed on display. One player who tested my stopwatch was Chicago White Sox second-base prospect Micah Johnson.
It is inevitable that comparisons will be made between Johnson and Cincinnati Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton. While Johnson is fast, he isn't quite Hamilton.
Johnson attended Park Tudor High School in Indianapolis, where he played both the infield and outfield. He hit .561 as a junior, but was hurt during his senior year. Johnson stayed in-state for college and attended Indiana University, where he initially played third base, but ultimately switched to second. He had two outstanding seasons, but had elbow surgery as a junior.
The Sox selected Johnson with their ninth-round pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft.
After two Minor League seasons, Johnson is ranked No. 15 on the White Sox Top 20 Prospects list.
While speed may be Johnson's calling card, he has more power in his bat than one might assume. At 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds, Johnson has the ability to pack a wallop. However, his swing is not without effort. In fact, he needs to smooth his swing and reduce the vigor.
In his first pro season, at Great Falls in the Pioneer League in 2012, Johnson hit .273 in 318 plate appearances. He flashed his power by hitting 10 doubles, five triples and four home runs. He stole 19 bases in 25 attempts.
This season may have been Johnson's coming-out party.
Johnson played at three classifications, moving from Class A Kannapolis to Class A Advanced Winston-Salem and finishing the season playing five games at Double-A Birmingham. In 131 games (601 plate appearances), Johnson hit .312 with 24 doubles, 15 triples and seven homers. He stole 84 bases and was caught 26 times. The season highlighted Johnson's ability to steal bases and hit for power -- a double whammy for the opposition.
Defensively, Johnson is a work in progress. He made 29 in 599 chances this past season. That's far too many. He looked tentative at times in the field. He has to find confidence and play like he belongs.
While Johnson has first-step quickness and good range, he may have some difficulty when he doesn't charge the ball consistently. I saw him turn the double play well, but he looked a bit tentative on ground-ball mechanics.
Looking at Johnson, I am reminded of the speed displayed by middle infielders Dee Gordon and Jemile Weeks, two players with similar skill sets. All three must get on base to use their greatest weapon -- speed.
Should Johnson scuffle playing second base as he advances in the White Sox system, it is within the realm of possibility he could play center field or third base. I project Johnson to be an above-average center fielder.
I see Johnson offering energy and excitement to the White Sox in the future. For now, he's gaining experience on the fields of Arizona.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff; on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.