3/4/2014 4:08 P.M. ET
Ventura marveled at Jordan's athleticism
By Tyler Emerick / MLB.com
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- On the 20th anniversary of Michael Jordan's first Spring Training game with the White Sox, manager Robin Ventura -- a member of the 1994 White Sox -- reminisced about being there for the moment and the experience of playing with the NBA legend in Sarasota, Fla.
"It was a fun Spring Training," Ventura said. "Any time a guy like him that was as good as he was at a sport and then all of a sudden comes over to ours, it was fun for us."
In his only at-bat of the day that March afternoon, Jordan grounded out to Rangers pitcher Darren Oliver. He later played 127 games for Double-A Birmingham, batting .202 with 21 extra-base hits, 51 RBIs and 30 stolen bases before returning to the Chicago Bulls the next March.
"To come out of nowhere and pick it up again -- he was a good enough athlete," Ventura said. "Outfield-wise, defensively, he could still run it down and do it. Hitting was going to take a while."
Johnson eager to build off first spring start
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Pegged to fill out the back end of the White Sox rotation this season, rookie right-hander Erik Johnson made his spring debut Tuesday, striking out a pair and allowing one earned run on three hits and a walk over a solid three-inning start against the Indians, who won the contest, 5-4.
"Today was just get my work in, use all my pitches, get out of there healthy and feel good about it," Johnson said. "It was the first one, I got it under my belt. I thought I could've done a little bit more with throwing first-pitch strikes and working ahead, but overall it was a good one to start off with."
Billed as the organization's top pitching prospect by MLB.com, Johnson is coming off a whirlwind 2013 campaign in which he dominated at Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte before receiving a September callup to Chicago. There, he made five starts, accumulating a 3.25 ERA and impressing the club enough to pencil him into its 2014 rotation.
"Just competitiveness," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura, when asked what stuck with him the most about Johnson last season. "He's got stuff, but he competes when he goes out there. I think anytime you have that with his kind of stuff, he's going to be a good pitcher."
Johnson got his afternoon started with a crisp first inning, retiring Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher and Jason Kipnis in order. In the second, he struck out Carlos Santana for the first out, but then surrendered a double to Asdrubal Cabrera, followed by an RBI single off the bat of Yan Gomes.
He put two more runners on in the third, but worked out of the jam by inducing a Kipnis groundout and Santana fly out.
"It's tough getting a lineup like that out," Johnson said. "[But] you know, every lineup in the league is good. They're well-prepared and they're good hitters, so no matter who you're facing, you have to bring it."
Like the rest of his rotation mates, Johnson will work to tighten up his stuff in his next outing, making sure he doesn't get too far ahead of himself with an anticipated rookie season on the horizon.
"For me, it's pitch to pitch," he said. "It's taking it pitch by pitch and really focusing in on each start, then building off this one to the next one."
Mound prospect Beck charting path to big leagues
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- White Sox pitching prospect Chris Beck saw what Erik Johnson accomplished in 2013, beginning the season at Double-A Birmingham before earning a promotion to the big leagues in September, when he laid the foundation to likely start 2014 in the club's rotation.
Beck, in his first Major League camp this spring as a non-roster invitee, will likely open the year as Johnson did a season ago in Birmingham, providing the 23-year-old with the hope that if he continues his rapid development, he'll find himself in Chicago at some point this season.
"It's very reassuring to know that the work you put in can pay off no matter how long you've been in the system or what your contract is," Beck said. "Just watching Erik Johnson last year, I think in a lot of ways we have some similarities. Hopefully, I can make that same step because that's one of the great things about the White Sox -- they focus on talent. Whoever is able to get the job done is going to be up."
After finishing 2012 with a 4.69 ERA in 15 games (six starts) for Advanced Rookie Great Falls, Beck took a sizable step forward in 2013, his first full professional season. He began the year starting 21 games for Class A Advanced Winston-Salem, compiling an 11-8 record with a 3.11 ERA before the White Sox promoted him to Birmingham. There, Beck's numbers were even better, as he struck out 22 batters in 28 innings and ended the stint with a 2.89 ERA in five starts.
"Last year, I made a lot of strides, and now I know what I need to do," Beck, who along with Johnson ranked as the top two mound prospects in the organization in 2013, said. "Confidence is a big thing in baseball because it's a game of failure. I had an awesome year, but I'm still learning every day. If you stop learning, you're going to get passed up, so you have to be willing to evolve and put the work in and not get complacent."
Beck's fastball sits in the low- to mid-90s, and he believes his secondary stuff is coming along smoothly.
"The breaking stuff has kind of always been behind, so that's really been the key," he said. "Last year at Double-A, I had some success with the curveball, and now just since camp started, I feel like I've added some depth to my slider. I'm making strides and making progress, that's most important thing."
Third to first
• Slowed this spring by a weak right shoulder, Jeff Keppinger saw his first Cactus League action on Tuesday, pinch-hitting and grounding out to third in the eighth inning against the Indians.
"I was trying to get him going, if he's not going to be able to throw right away," Ventura said. "Gotta slowly get him in there and get some at-bats. I know Thursday he's probably scheduled to DH one of those [split-squad] games."
• Gordon Beckham returned to the starting lineup Tuesday, a day after being scratched with tightness in his right leg. The infielder went 2-for-3 with a run scored.
• Ventura had no update on Ronald Belisario's visa status Tuesday, saying only that "it's gone dark."
Tyler Emerick is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.