CHICAGO | Hardly cracking a smile, Erik Johnson showed not a trace of euphoria or exuberance Tuesday, less than 24 hours after picking up his first big-league victory.
The Sox’s top pitching prospect would be out of character otherwise.
And that’s good news for general manager Rick Hahn, who is evaluating whether Johnson could make the Sox rotation in 2014.
“For me, it’s a start-to-start basis,” Johnson said of what's at stake for him. “What are you going to do for these four, five days before your next start?
"All you can think about is how you’re going to prepare for the next one, how you’re going to get the next guy out and how you’re going to make the next pitch. It’s very short-term focus for me, strictly preparing for my next start.”
Hahn certainly would have appreciated the train of thought. Let him do the evaluating and Johnson do the pitching, to reach the hoped-for conclusion.
Johnson described his mindset sitting in the same seat by the Sox dugout railing that Hahn occupied only minutes previously as batting practice wound down. He was asked where Johnson stands in his projection toward 2014.
“He’s got the prototypical pitcher’s build (6-foot-3, 235 pounds), which helps,” Hahn said. “He’s got a real clean delivery. He’s got four pitches, all of which have the chance to be plus. He’s still a work in progress. He’s still ironing out the edges.
“When you put together what you’d want in a mid- to front-of the-rotation type starter, he’s got the raw ingredients for that. It’s still going to take a little bit of development time, but he’s got a bright future.”
Hahn would have leverage in trades this winter if he was confident Johnson was ready to go March 31, 2014.
With a near-surplus of starters, he could spare a left-hander, the most coveted commodity in the game and one that could snare a desperately-needed impact hitter, or more.
“We’ve done a nice job over the years finishing off a pitcher’s development at the big-league level since I’ve been here,” Hahn said, “going back to guys like (Mark) Buehrle and (Jon) Garland, (Gavin) Floyd to an extent, (Jose) Quintana last year.
"So it is conceivable that even if we feel he’s not a finished product yet, that we decide that final stage of development happens at the big-league level. So I would say, yes, he would be a consideration for the rotation next year.”
For want of a better term, Hahn has a pitching junkie on his hands.
“For me it’s the comfort of being out on the mound,” Johnson said. “It’s a place where I’ve excelled. It’s something I love to do.”
Would Johnson still enjoy it if he wasn’t being paid?
“Hell, yeah. Going at hitters and being competitive, that’s just in my nature," he said.
This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at DGemsNet@aol.com.