By Bruce Levine-
GLENDALE, Ariz. (CBS) — The main battle to be won in White Sox camp will be the second base position. Is there a favorite going into spring training games that begin March 4? The smart money may be on former starter Gordon Beckham reclaiming the position he vacated when he was traded to the Angels last July.
Still, management may prefer Micah Johnson winning the job outright. Johnson has plenty of speed and offense to offer but must show he can handle the position on defense. The 24-year-old Johnson dominated at Double-A Birmingham last season, hitting .329 with 10 stolen base before a promotion to Triple-A Charlotte, where he hit .275 in 65 games with 12 stolen bases.
The allure of Johnson centers around a solid left-handed bat and the possible threat of a stolen-base king. Johnson stole 84 bases at Class-A in 2013.
“I can’t get caught up in the hype,” Johnson said. “I have a lot of work to do on offense and defense. I can worry about if people like my defense or not. That is life in general, not everyone will like you or what you do.”
Manager Robin Ventura will have a strong say in Johnson’s fate, but Beckham and rookie Carlos Sanchez will also have a say in the matter. Speed is something the Sox would love to add to the lineup with the bet on small ball when the club goes through a power outage.
The White Sox’s hiring of baserunning instructor Vince Coleman can only enhance Johnson’s shot at second base.
“We have great coaches in our system, and Vince is just another tool we have added,” Johnson said. “I have worked with him for a week now even though camp had not already started. He is very enthusiastic in his approach. We have been on the field, so I have been able to pick his brain a little bit. We might tweak a little stuff and combine what I like with some of his input. He is a cerebral guy, so it is good to talk to him and get his input.”
Some scouts feel the talented second baseman is better suited in the outfield.
“I love his offensive potential,” said a veteran major league scout who saw Johnson a half-dozen times last year. “He must improve on the double play, or else his future is in the outfield on defense.”
“My parents raised me to respect everyone’s opinion,” Johnson added. “They taught me to use other’s opinions as constructive criticism. If my defense is not good enough, then it isn’t. It is that simple. If people say that, then that gives me a lot to work on.”
Normally, winning a position in spring training is considered a crapshoot. Second base will be won this spring regardless of those trappings.
“There is a competition at the position, so someone will win it,” Ventura said. “We have four guys that can win it, and we are excited about those guys that have potential to do that.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.