With September 2015 MLB roster promotions in progress, one player to watch closely is Chicago White Sox right-handed pitcher Erik Johnson. Johnson is no longer considered a technical rookie so he may get easily overlooked when young players down the stretch are discussed, but he is worth keeping a very close eye on.
As you likely recall, Johnson was a top prospect for the White Sox entering the 2014 season. A second round pick from the University of California in 2011, he rode an outstanding 2013 minor league season (12-3, 1.96 ERA, 131/40 K/BB in 140 innings) in the high minors into a successful September cup-of-coffee.
He opened 2014 in the White Sox rotation but it was a complete disaster: he was sent back down to Triple-A after posting a 6.46 ERA in five starts. Worse, he continued to get blasted all last summer for Charlotte (he had pitched very well there in 2013), to the tune of a 6.73 ERA, a poor 63/54 K/BB, and 136 hits in 106 innings. There was clearly something amiss: his fastball velocity was down a good three MPH on average compared to 2013 and his secondary pitches lacked bite. Although he spent a couple of weeks on the disabled list in August, there was no serious injury reported.
Johnson entered 2015 something of a forgotten man, having exceeded rookie innings limits during his 2013-2014 trials but falling off many radars due to his disastrous season. However, he's rebounded with a superior campaign in Triple-A, posting a 2.37 ERA in 133 innings with a 136/41 K/BB and just 108 hits allowed. He was named International League Pitcher of the Year.
His statistical performance is back together obviously but he looks like the Johnson of old stuff-wise too. Johnson reportedly lost the touch with his mechanics in '14 but hard work over the winter has restored them. This brought his fastball velocity back to old standards (up to 95,averaging 92) and restored command of his slider, curve, and change-up.
So here he is, back in the majors again. Can Johnson maintain his 2015 progress and solidify a spot in the White Sox rotation? My guess is yes. What do you think?