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Micah Johnson is a steal-good story for White Sox

Updated: September 19, 2013 9:34AM

Good thinking by the White Sox to bring second baseman Micah Johnson to the ballpark Wednesday.

A 22-year-old, sharply dressed and poised prospect who stole 84 bases in the minor leagues this season, Johnson did his duty by taking the media’s focus away from a 60-92 team as he sat in the Sox’ dugout before the 4-3 loss to the Minnesota Twins.

Moments later, flanked by general manager Rick Hahn and assistant GM Buddy Bell, Johnson was presented with a commemorative base for his 84 stolen bases in the minor leagues. Fellow Birmingham Barons now with the Sox held up Southern League championship T-shirts in a pregame ceremony behind home plate.

With maybe 1,000 people in the stands at the time, Johnson was a welcome sign of hope that the aging Sox can get younger, faster, more athletic and hopefully better soon. Bell said Johnson has a shot at being with the big club at some point next season.

“I have kind of a different game,’’ Johnson said. “I can hit a homer every now and then, but I also can steal second and third and score a run for you.’’

Johnson made 29 errors in 125 games at second base in 2013, a red flag for a team with 116 errors. He actually has gotten better.

“Micah has improved a lot,’’ director of player development Nick Capra said. “His range is exceptional. He still needs work on the routine play.’’

With Gordon Beckham, second base is the least of the Sox’ problems. But Johnson, a ninth-round pick from Indiana in 2012, batted .312 with seven home runs, 24 doubles and 15 triples between Class A and AA. The eye-popping number is those 84 steals.

Triple-digit stolen-base numbers posted by Rickey Henderson, Vince Coleman, Lou Brock and Maury Wills are feet feats of the past, so Johnson’s 84 and Billy Hamilton’s astronomical 155 in the minors last season and 75 this year have turned heads when stolen bases are down 12 percent from last year in the majors. Jacoby Ellsbury leads the bigs with 52.

A difference in Hamilton and the lefty-swinging Johnson is that Johnson can hit.

“It’s exciting to have a kid who can do that and also hit the ball,’’ said Ventura, who likes the running game.

“A team that can run becomes difficult to play defense against. You’re always putting pressure on the pitcher and players. Having played on teams like that, your subconscious is always thinking about that guy running and what you’re going to do. It’s good for your offense.’’

As all who’ve suffered through this season know, the Sox can use more offense. Johnson was a Class A player for all but five games, and shortly after joining Birmingham, he helped them win the Southern League title by hitting a home run in the deciding game. He hit .368 in the postseason with seven stolen bases, giving him 91 for the season. He also drove in seven runs and scored 12. Next up is the highly regarded Arizona Fall League, then spring training. As for the majors, he’s not getting ahead of himself.

“If it happens, it happens,’’ he said. ‘‘I try not to look forward to the future and get excited because then you’ll lose track of what you need to do each day to get better.’’


Twitter: @CST_soxvan

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