Pitcher Erik Johnson was selected by the White Sox in the 2nd round of the 2011 Amateur Draft, and he’s been rocketing up the prospect ladder ever since. A definite overall Top 5 in the current Sox system (and making a strong case for #1) and it’s hottest pitching prospect, Johnson is already mowing down AA hitters despite having just 19 pro games under his belt coming into this season. He’s posted a 2.58 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and is holding batters to a .180 AVG so far in Birmingham. He’s also struck out 47 in 45.1 innings.
I had the opportunity to speak with Erik recently, to ask him a few questions about his ascent through the system. Here is what Erik had to say…
For fans who may be unfamiliar, can you give us a rundown of your pitching repertoire?
I throw a couple fastballs, straight change, curveball and slider. I feel like I can throw any pitch to any batter, left or right-handed. I throw more 2-seamers with runners on base, allows me to get more grounders, keep the pitch counts down, and go deeper into games. I focus on just me and the glove out there, whatever is working best that day I might throw more.
You mentioned in an MiLB interview that the Sox tore down your mechanics and rebuilt them with you… so what is different now mechanically than what you were doing previously?
Very slight changes really, more about getting upright and getting tall, so I can really drive pitches. Working back to front rather than side to side. Through my career, high school, college, I didn’t get as much in-depth coaching as I do now. I’m very thankful for them taking me aside, building me up, introducing me to what to do to prepare mentally for games.
Speaking of coaching, have you been able to work with Don Cooper much yet?
Yeah, in big league [spring training] camp, Coop and I had some time to interact. That guy is one of the most knowledgeable people about pitching I’ve ever met. Great guy, I like to pick his brain. Talks about how to take practice into games, Great opportunity to have some one-on-one time with him.
What areas of your pitching are you focusing on refining or improving right now, if anything?
Mostly about improving what I already do. One pitch that might be able to get a little more movement. But every day mentality is big – come to the ballpark to get better that day, that is the philosophy with the White Sox. Playing catch every day, work on the side, take advantage of those opportunities.
What has been the biggest adjustment going from A ball to AA?
Last year my changeup wasn’t as developed, this year it is. I think it is up there with the fastball, slider and curve now. Trying to get ground balls, get contact early, those are important. Sox really harped on throwing the change to do that. And its working, keeps counts down, gets contact outs. Speed differential is good, it makes the fastball faster.
What are you most proud of thus far in your baseball career?
Probably most proud of the relationships with people I’ve met along the way. A lot of great instructors, people that have really helped me get to where I am… pitching coaches, college teammates, even high school coaches. And just to have this game as a profession, I’m really thankful for that.
Who is the funniest guy you’ve played with so far in the org?
There’s a ton of characters out there in baseball. Kevin Vance, my roommate, I’ve been on teams with him each year. He makes everyone laugh. He’s so funny because he has his own persona, lots of lingo used daily that people haven’t heard before. He has a Twitter account (@SorryBoutIt10), that’s got some funny stuff. But I don’t have a Twitter account yet.
Deep question… what is your favorite baseball movie?
There’s a few out there, but Kevin Costner is the best baseball actor. So Bull Durham, For The Love of the Game, and Field of Dreams of course.
Any one thing you’d want to pass on to White Sox fans?
The White Sox org has been taking care of me very well, they are great. I’m very thankful to be part of it, never received so much helpful instruction.
Read more about Erik Johnson by checking out his prospect profile here.