While compiling my top 30 prospects list as part of the most recent FutureSox Top 25 Prospects list, I found Micah Johnson to be the most difficult prospect to place. The reason for this was because his 2013 season was so contrasting. Johnson excelled in the first half of the season with Kannapolis, hitting .342/.422/.530 with a .188 ISO and 11.4 BB%/19.1 K%. He was old for the level, at 22, but this performance was very encouraging. The numbers dropped as he progressed through the system, with Micah hitting .275/.309/.360 at Winston-Salem with a .085 ISO and 4.4 BB%/11.8 K%. Further promotion to Birmingham saw his line fall to .238/.227/.238 (.000 ISO, 0.0 BB%/18.2 K%), though the sample size was tiny here at only 22 PA. He closed his season with a stint in the Arizona Fall League, where he rebounded to hit a strong .320/.379/.520 line (.200 ISO, 10.3 BB%/17.2 K%).
If Johnson had managed to maintain his strong offensive performance throughout the year, or if he had a track record to fall back on, it would have been easy to place him comfortably inside the top 10. As it was, I had concerns that he may have been a flash in the pan, simply beating up on younger competition before getting exposed at the higher levels. In particular, I found the decline in both power and walks as he moved up the levels to be a very concerning sign. In the end, I settled upon ranking Johnson as the #10 prospect in the system, behind the likes of Tyler Danish, Trayce Thompson and Micker Adolfo.
From a scouting perspective, the tool that really jumps out is Johnson’s speed. The timings noted from Nathaniel Stoltz of Johnson going home to 1st (3.95-4.05 seconds) indicate 70 speed (plus-plus), and he timed him at 3.6-3.7 on bunts. This was backed-up by MLB.com’s scouting report, with Jim Callis putting an 80 grade on Johnson’s speed, which would make it an elite, top of the line tool. Ability to hit for average may be Johnson’s only other tool that projects to be above average, though, with Callis placing a 55 grade on his hit tool. Defensively he needs work at 2B, any he may have to move, possibly to the OF, in the future.
Micah Johnson has been on fire to open the 2014 season. Through his first 24 games with Double-A Birmingham, his triple slash line sits at .355/.439/.516. The statistical aspect that stands out most to me so far is Johnson’s approach at the plate. Through 108 PA’s, he has 13 BB/15 SO (12.0 BB%, 13.9 K%). Both of these numbers are excellent and show that Johnson has very good control of the strike zone. Last year Johnson had an 8.3 BB% and 16.3 K% (50 BB/98 SO), so he has shown progression in both areas so far this year. I’m not sure how accurate plate discipline numbers are in the Minors, but Johnson’s O-Swing% (the percentage of pitches outside the zone which are swung at) is 19.3% according to Minor League Central (MLB average is typically around 30%), which would further reinforce his strong eye at the plate. The power has returned, as his ISO currently sits at .161, though it is still not quite at the level it was at with Kannapolis last year (.188), but is well above average for a middle infielder. Speed-wise, Johnson hasn’t been running as much, or as efficiently, as he did last year, and so far has stolen 7 bases at a 54% success rate. This compares with 84 steals at a 76% success rate in 2013. It’s rare to find above average patience, power, contact and speed, but that is what Johnson has shown so far in 2014.
It must be stated that the sample size this year is still small, and a lot can (and probably will) change over the remainder of the season. That said, Johnson is quickly allaying the concerns that I had about him entering this year and his performance has perhaps been the most encouraging/impressive of all Sox minor league hitters thus far in ‘14. If I were to re-rank my top 10 Sox prospects today, excluding the prospects currently in Chicago (Jose Abreu, Marcus Semien and Erik Johnson), Micah Johnson could fit as high as #3, behind only Tim Anderson and Courtney Hawkins. I can see him profiling as an above average regular at 2B offensively, with the potential for more, especially if he can maintain a .150+ ISO and 10+ BB%.