Johnson, who was named the International League's pitcher of the year in 2015, won’t necessarily take over Samardzija’s role as the club’s No. 2 starter, but the change in personnel does afford him a spot in the rotation.
“Obviously [Johnson] got some starts in September and continued to show the progress in Chicago he had shown in the minor leagues over the course of the last season,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “So if Opening Day were today, then I think Johnson is penciled into that spot in the rotation right now.”
It would be the second time Johnson has earned an Opening Day rotation spot. He broke camp with the team out of spring training in 2014, but struggled quickly over five starts and was sent back to Charlotte. His return to form this past season, when he posted an 11-8 record and a 2.37 ERA in 23 appearances (22 starts) at Charlotte, has earned him a second chance.
Johnson’s newest opportunity is strikingly similar to the one he got in 2014. He earned that nod after coming off a solid 2013 season at two minor league levels and finished that season in the major leagues.
The White Sox hope that experience, along with the continued improvement of the former second-round draft pick in 2011, will propel the right-hander forward.
“In all probability, once we get closer to spring, there will be some competition for [Johnson] to earn that spot,” Hahn said. “But if we were strictly looking at today then I would think Johnson has the inside track on filling Samardzija’s innings.”
Other in-house right-handed starting candidates would include Frankie Montas, who finished the 2015 season in the White Sox bullpen, and Carson Flumer, who was the club’s first-round draft pick in June.
“Obviously, we’re fairly predominantly left-handed at this point and you have guys like Montas and Fulmer, who may well force the issue at some point in the coming year to be part of the rotation,” Hahn said. “But we’ve also looked at external candidates and if we see someone that makes a lot of sense then we’ll move on.”