Erik Johnson and the first wave of September call-ups

With the season winding down and a postseason bid falling out of the reach for the parent club, White Sox fans can at least take some pleasure with the White Sox adding some new players with the roster expansion moves that were made on Tuesday afternoon. The White Sox announced that they have added right-handed starting pitcher Erik Johnson, utility player Leury Garcia and catcher Rob Brantly from Charlotte. The team also pulled up flame-throwing right-handed pitcher Frankie Montas.

Erik Johnson, 25, is probably the player White Sox fans are most familiar with. Johnson was drafted out of the University of California in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft and rose quickly through the system to become a top 100 prospect in baseball. Johnson took every level in stride and first found his way to the majors in September of 2013 when rosters expanded that fall. Johnson held his own and turned in three quality starts in five tries to round out a dominant 2013 campaign. He was expected to become a mainstay in the White Sox rotation for years to come but 2014 spiraled away from him and with no clear injury to point to, Johnson’s velocity teetered below 90 MPH (where it had been 92-94 more typically). Johnson’s secondary offerings were not as sharp either, and he was beat up by International League hitters following his demotion back to AAA. We also interviewed him just a few days ago, if you want to hear from him more directly.

In 2015, Erik Johnson has turned it around dramatically. It was evident in his first start that he was something closer to the 2013 Erik Johnson than he was the 2014 Erik Johnson. I asked Rick Hahn this April about Johnson, since he had seen his velocity improve. Hahn told me, “He had small setback with a strain in early-mid Spring Training, but prior to that we were really liking what we saw in his side sessions. Once he got to Charlotte, as you said, the reports have been great. Erik is a guy we’re probably not going to bring up until he’s had a few months of success and really gets comfortable with his stuff but we certainly haven’t counted him out in any way.” Johnson answered that call this year. He leaves the Knights with the International League’s best ERA (2.37), best WHIP (1.12) and most strikeouts (136). He was also just named the International League’s Most Valuable Pitcher.

It’s unclear how Johnson will get his starts with the White Sox having a healthy five-man rotation, but it can be assumed he will get a couple starts. Johnson has a fastball that sits 91-94, which he refers to as his base and also features a slider, change up and curveball. His slider has long been his out pitch and is an above average major league offering but it’s his change-up’s development that has allowed him to marginalize left-handed bats unlike any year prior. Johnson will get a chance to audition for the 2016 rotation, as the White Sox brass begins sorting out their organizational strength for next year.

Frankie Montas, just 22, has pitched well enough to cement his role as the #3 overall prospect in the system. Initially considered to be a “throw in” in the Jake PeavyAvisail Garcia trade, Montas brings a fastball that requires recognition. Montas’ heavy heater has been clocked as high as 102 MPH at the MLB Futures Game. Montas followed up a strong 2014 in Winston-Salem with an encore performance in Birmingham leading to a 2.97 ERA, 8.7 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9.

It is often debated whether Montas can hold up as a starter but he carries a repertoire that could make him a scary late inning option. Despite 23 starts in Birmingham, Montas will likely be used exclusively out of the pen this September as he debuts his triple-digit heater. He’s got the right stuff, but his command still needs more polish and his pitches tend to flatten out when he reaches back for the extra few digits on the gun.

Rob Brantly, 26, was first thrown into the mainstream as part of the return when the Tigers traded for Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante in 2012. Despite showing big promise in the big leagues during a short stint in 2012 (.832 OPS), Brantly’s 2013 and 2014 production waned and he was released by the Marlins last December. After the White Sox claimed Brantly that month, he was looked at as a dark horse to become the back up catcher for the White Sox. After a late start to his season due to avulsion fracture in his left thumb, Brantly has been a pain to opposing pitchers in both Charlotte and Birmingham leading to a .310/.335/.483 line across the two levels in 215 PAs. Brantly figures to get a few trial starts against right-handed starters and gives the White Sox the opportunity to pinch-hit Geovany Soto instead of being hampered by only having two catchers.

Leury Garcia, 24, was the sole return for Alex Rios in 2013. He has seen time in the MLB over each of the past three seasons. Developed as a shortstop, the switch-hitter has played all over the field and his scout-friendly defense has been his calling card. Garcia also brings serious speed and figures to be the go-to option as a pinch runner. While he’s had a good year at the plate in Charlotte (.298/.340/.395), Garcia has struggled over his 272 plates appearances in the big leagues. Garcia will need to show his bat is acceptable off the bench to grow into a potential major league piece moving forward.

These four new players are only the first wave of call-ups for the White Sox. It’s safe to assume that there are more players coming in the short-term future. For information on these players, you can follow us on Twitter at @FutureSox or join the e-mail list below.

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