Micah Johnson knew he had to do more than just run.
The White Sox second-base prospect, ranked No. 15 on the organization's Top 20 Prospects list, tore up the Class A South Atlantic League, hitting .342/.422/.530 over 77 games and winning the All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award to boot. Johnson also stole 61 bases before moving up to the Class A Advanced Carolina League, where he swiped 22 more. He finished the season in Double-A, where he helped Birmingham win the Southern League title.
"In the beginning, I was just stealing on speed alone," said Johnson, whose 84 steals led the Minor Leagues. "Then, as I moved up, I had to learn how to really steal. When I got to Double-A, that's when [I said], 'Let's focus here.' I was able to steal a few bases in the playoffs successfully.
"It was just like a process for me. I wasn't really looking at the totals, but more like, 'Let's see what we can learn from getting thrown out here in low A that can help me in Double-A or the big leagues.'"
Johnson did get thrown out 26 times --19 at Class A and seven at Class A Advanced -- but he went a perfect 7-for-7 during the Double-A playoff run. He continued to work on the finer points of stealing bases, not to mention hitting, against more advanced pitching in the Arizona Fall League before undergoing a procedure on Oct. 29 to reposition a nerve in his right elbow that ended his AFL stint. The operation is the same one the second baseman had while playing at Indiana, which caused him to miss the 2012 season there. Johnson is expected to be ready for the start of Spring Training.
"[It's] more chances to play with the best of the best in the Minor Leagues," Johnson, a ninth-round Draft pick in 2012 out of Indiana University, said of the AFL experience before his injury. "I really want to work on things, defensively and offensively, [have] good approaches against some of the best pitchers. Up in Double-A, we were in the playoffs, so up there, it was the best pitchers. Hopefully I can carry that into here."
Johnson enjoyed a strong start for the Glendale Desert Dogs, going 8-for-25 (.320) with three doubles, a triple and three steals in his first six games.
The Fall League, of course, is no stranger to speedsters getting ready for the upper levels. A year ago, Billy Hamilton headed to the desert following his 155-steal season. It's been well-documented what he did with his legs in Cincinnati down the stretch this season.
Johnson, who actually out-stole Hamilton in the Minors in 2013, was watching Hamilton closely with the Reds.
"Everyone knew he was going when he was coming into the game," Johnson said. "Hopefully I can be able to do something like that. You can see how many runs he created by doing that, just by being a pinch-runner. Hopefully my game can translate to there, and I can do what he did."
Johnson also has some power, though he knows his skill set. He hit a huge home run to help Birmingham win the finale of its championship series, but after hitting just seven all season, he's not counting on that carrying him up the ladder.
"When the wind is blowing out, like it was that day, if I get one elevated, it can go sometimes," Johnson said. "Other than that, bunts and ground balls is the game."
White Sox hitters in the AFL
Marcus Semien, the No. 8 prospect on the White Sox Top 20 list, began 2013 in Double-A, but finished in the big leagues. Across three stops, the infielder had a 20-20 season, with 21 homers and 26 steals. His .401 on-base percentage in the Minors was fourth best in the organization, while he finished third in hits and home runs, and second in slugging. Semien played second, third and shortstop during 2013, and he continues to move around in the AFL while going .188 with two homers and seven RBIs over his first 14 games.
Brandon Jacobs is ranked No. 7 on the White Sox list, having come from the Red Sox in July via the Matt Thornton trade. The former football standout continues to intrigue with his raw tools -- he had 13 homers and 12 steals -- though he hit just .237/.291/.327 in Double-A following the trade. Jacobs is a taxi squad player in the Fall League, playing just twice a week, though he's made the most of it, going 10-for-25 (.400) with two homers in his first eight games.
No. 10 White Sox prospect Jared Mitchell had a big Spring Training and seemed poised to be ready to help out in Chicago in 2013. Then the wheels came off and he found himself scuffling back down in Double-A. Mitchell is hoping to rediscover what worked for him last spring in Arizona, and he has so far, batting .317 with three homers and 10 runs in his first 13 games.
White Sox pitchers in the AFL
Right-hander Chris Bassitt continues to be an interesting sleeper in the White Sox system. A product of a small Ohio high school and the University of Akron, Bassitt reached Double-A in 2013 and threw extremely well. Across two levels, he led the organization in strikeouts, finished third in batting average against and fourth in ERA. Pitching out of the bullpen in Arizona, the 6-foot-5 righty has tossed seven scoreless innings, allowing just five hits. If Bassitt can continue to refine his command, he could be ready to help Chicago in '14.
Charlie Leesman began the year No. 14 on that Top 20 list. The 26-year-old made his big league debut in 2013, appearing in eight games (all but one in relief) and posted a 7.04 ERA in 15 1/3 innings. Most of that came in September. Leesman spent most of the year in Triple-A (3.87 ERA over 88 1/3 innings), though he didn't get started until the end of May as he recovered from 2012 ACL surgery. He's making up for lost innings as a reliever in the AFL, compiling a 1.74 ERA over his first seven appearances.
Right-hander Stephen McCray spent most of the year in Double-A, throwing a near no-hitter in his final start at that level before finishing the year in Triple-A. His 3.25 ERA in Birmingham landed him 11th in the Southern League. McCray is getting starts for Glendale in the AFL, going 2-1 with a 0.66 ERA over his first four starts, including four perfect frames on Oct. 17.
Kevin Vance was a two-way guy at the University of Connecticut, serving as a hitter and a closer. After a brief starting stint, he's now strictly a reliever and pitched at Double-A in 2013. Vance wasn't quite as dominant in Birmingham as he was the year prior down a level, with an increased walk rate a likely culprit. The right-hander uses a fastball-curveball combination and goes right after hitters, something he's doing out of the Glendale 'pen this fall (3.12 ERA with nine strikeouts over seven appearances).