CHICAGO | Mention Indiana University product Micah Johnson to White Sox general manager Rick Hahn, and he goes into enthusiastic detail about Johnson’s legs, bat and overall athleticism.
Going forward the next couple of years, to put his words into actions, Hahn should mandate special attention for second baseman Johnson. In his first exposure to the big time at SoxFest over the weekend, Johnson revealed he’s going to apply organization and form to the art of base stealing at which he thrived in the minors in 2013.
Thus, Johnson should be outfield/baserunning roving instructor Doug Sisson’s personal project. Hahn knows he has to restore some power production to the lineup at U.S Cellular Field, while at the same time employing capable table setters in front of the musclemen.
The template has been proven to work. Scott Podsednik swiped 59 bases to lead off the 2005 Sox lineup. Stronger hitters to follow totaled 200 homers, powering Podsednik home with 80 runs in 129 games. The Sox won the World Series.
Another Podsednik would be welcome in front of Hahn’s new core of hoped-for run producers in Avisail Garcia, Jose Abreu and Matt Davidson. Still a couple of years off, second baseman Johnson, an Indianapolis native, plans to keep a book on pitcher’s moves after swiping 84 bases with three minor league teams last year.
“This year, I picked up a book I was going to do it in,” Johnson said. “If I want to steal (on the) first pitch, that’s the pitch they’re giving me. I don’t want to go in there unprepared. I think (keeping records are) going to be something important for me.”
Hahn is purposely giving the 23-year-old Johnson, a ninth-round Sox draft pick out of IU in 2012, a taste of the big time this year before he goes back down, likely to Double-A Birmingham. He got an invitation to SoxFest over the weekend. He’ll start out camp in Glendale as a non-roster invitee to the Sox big league club.
“He’s a work in progress,” Hahn said. “He had a great year in terms of getting on base (and) in terms of converting his stolen bases. His percentage was at a high and healthy amount.
“His ability to work the count, get on base, run the bases well and steal a bag are all positives going back to Indiana University.”
Area scout Mike Shirley first saw Johnson, who then was watched by East Coast cross checker Nick Hostetler and finally amateur scouting director Doug Laumann.
If they scouted attitude, Johnson would grade out with an “A,” just the man Hahn wants at the top of the lineup.
“Stealing isn’t about my personal statistics,” Johnson said. “It’s about the runs I can produce when I’m stealing. I’m going to steal because I want to score runs. I hope my trademark is the runs I score. I’d rather set records with runs than set records with steals.”
Johnson’s got an earlier template, from the AL champion 1959 Sox, down pat in his head.
“If I get on first with a walk or error, let me steal second," he said. "I can steal third. Then you can hit a sac fly or ground ball, and it’s 1-0.”
If Johnson succeeds, the days of the Sox lumbering around as a park softball team will recede into the past. The fans can revive the 1959 chant that urged Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio to steal – “Go! Go! Go!” Life would be a lot more interesting at The Cell.