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White Sox prospects have ups and downs with Charlotte Knights

By Paul Sullivan
Chicago Tribune
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/30/20/52/1k1rKl.Em.138.jpeg|472
    Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
    The Knights’ Matt Davidson entered the weekend hitting .197 with five homers, 14 RBIs and 59 strikeouts.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/30/20/52/RIKKr.Em.138.jpeg|209
    -
    Top White Sox prospect Micah Johnson spent part of last season at Class A Kannapolis. He moved on to Class A Winston-Salem and Class AA Birmingham. He joined the Charlotte Knights this month.

Chicago White Sox prospects Micah Johnson and Matt Davidson are both on their way to the majors, though one’s on cruise control and the other’s stuck in neutral.

After failing to make the team out of spring training, Davidson has gotten off to a dismal start at Class AAA Charlotte. The 23-year-old third baseman was recently joined there by Johnson, a 23-year-old second baseman whose quick ascension through the system soon could affect the future of Gordon Beckham.

Which one gets to Chicago’s U.S. Cellular Field first is a question being asked on the South Side, where the White Sox are trying to compete and develop kids at the same time.

A ninth-round pick out of Indiana in 2012, Johnson hit .312 with 84 steals in three stops last season in Class A and Class AA. He was promoted two weeks ago after registering a .414 OBP in 37 games at Birmingham.

While it surprised some to see the move happen so quickly, Johnson is not among them.

“I think ‘surprised’ means you’re underconfident,” he said last week during an interview in Durham. “I was confident. I was prepared and kept doing what I’ve been doing the past year.”

So does he see himself with the White Sox before end of the season?

“Yeah, I’d be a fool to say I didn’t want to or I didn’t see myself (there),” he said. “I mean, I’m a confident person and always expect the most and try not to undershoot anything. I work hard for that, and I work hard to get there.

“That’s ultimately the goal, and if they think the time is ready, it’s ready. They want you to make the decision hard on them, so I’m going to play hard down here and see what happens.”

Both prospects were in spring training camp with the White Sox, but Davidson had much more pressure on him after being acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the offseason deal for closer Addison Reed.

The White Sox anointed him as the third baseman of the future, but Conor Gillaspie won the job in spring training, and Davidson has struggled from the outset at Charlotte. He entered the weekend hitting .197 with five home runs and 14 RBIs, while striking out 59 times.

A bruised thumb didn’t help, though he has come around some recently.

“It definitely hasn’t been the season I wanted,” Davidson said last week. “It never really goes as planned. I’m confident it will turn around. Every year I’ve played I’ve hit. I trust that.

“My defense is going really well. I’m learning. Just glad it’s happening here and not in the big leagues.”

Davidson said he wasn’t pressing to justify the trade, which stunned most because of Reed’s age and success as the closer. Davidson didn’t use the thumb injury as an excuse, and knows he has to become more consistent if he expects to live up to expectations.

“I’ve hit .180 before in a month,” he said. “If you do it the first month, though, that’s all you see. When you’re hitting .300 before the month, it’s not so bad. Just try to turn it around the remaining months of the season and nobody will even remember this.

“It’s disappointing, but it’s all about performing, and I know if I had performed like this in the big leagues I would’ve gotten sent down anyway. In this game you have to perform and, obviously, I haven’t (yet).”

Johnson has a bit more flair than Davidson and fits the mold of a prototypical leadoff man. He grew up following the Cubs in Indianapolis and knew he would become a baseball player when he met Sammy Sosa at Wrigley Field during the summer of 1998.

“I met him in a tunnel in Wrigley after a Cardinals game, when I was 8,” he said. “He had hit two home runs that day, back when he and (Mark) McGwire were battling (for the home run record). We spoke in Spanish for around 10 minutes.

“Sammy always ran hard out there to the field, and I liked that. That was my guy. I’m not a power hitter. I don’t try to mimic him or anything.”

Johnson’s future is probably at second, though White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said after the call-up it’s “conceivable” Johnson could play some outfield down the road.

“Eventually if he gets to the point where we start trying new positions, it’s probably going to be after we feel he’s acclimated to the life, and certainly offensively, at that level,” Hahn said.

Johnson wasn’t up on that bit of news last week but didn’t seem to care.

“If they tell you to do it, you do it,” said Johnson, who went on the disabled list on Sunday with a hamstring injury. “You’re not really in position to say ‘No, I’m not going to do that.’ “

But would he prefer to stay at second, all things considered?

“I prefer to get to the big leagues,” he replied. “Whatever that is – catching, batboy, pitcher. … I just want to be up there. If they think I’m better somewhere else, that’s good too. I’m not picky.”

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