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Johnson, Semien promise keen focus

1/23/2014

CHICAGO – Part of the reason the Chicago White Sox weren’t completely crushed over not signing Japanese phenom Masahiro Tanaka is because the club is pleased with the young corps of talent it has been developing.

Two players who figure to play a prominent role were already in town Thursday in advance of this weekend’s annual SoxFest at the Palmer House Hilton.

Pitcher Erik Johnson and infielder Marcus Semien can be considered a package deal of sorts since both attended the University of California, both still live in the Bay Area and both came to Chicago on the same flight this week to help promote the upcoming season.

Both players were making cold calls to season-ticket holders, thanking them for their support while also trying to drum up new business.

The White Sox’s hope is that both will sell tickets in the near future simply by their level of play at the major league stage. Both made their major league debuts this season, but both still have work to do to earn an Opening Day roster spot this year.

“The offseason has been good for me,” the quiet and reserved Johnson said. “I’ve enjoyed my time off. I think I’m ready to hit the ground running this spring.”

The White Sox could have as many as two rotation spots up for grabs if no roster additions are made in the next two months, but Johnson’s focus will remain on the small details while letting the big picture take care of itself.

“The goal is to follow the process and try to work on what I need to work on each day, whether it be fastball, curve, slider, change,” he said. “Whatever they say I need to work on, that’s what I’m going to put my emphasis on.”

Semien also said he is ready to get spring training started despite a short offseason after a grueling 2013.

Between stops at Double-A, Triple-A, the major leagues and the Arizona Fall League this winter, Semien had 664 at-bats last year and in the neighborhood of 800 plate appearances.

“It was a great year for me personally,” Semien said. “It was a great year for (Double-A) Birmingham, winning the championship. I feel like I had a part in that, being there most of the year. The September call-up was a dream come true.

“After playing in Chicago, I went to the fall league. I didn’t hit as well as I would have liked to, personally, but I met a lot of new players and learned a lot, learned a lot on defense also. I just try to take every positive I can from that experience. I want to remember I had a great year no matter how it ended.”

Semien figures to be in the mix for a starting spot at third base along with Conor Gillaspie and the newly-acquired Matt Davidson. While he does have defensive versatility, Semien isn’t expected to make the roster out of spring training unless he has a place to play every day.

He said he hasn’t concerned himself with the obstacles that could block him from making the roster, choosing instead to focus on what he can control.

“I’m just here to play ball,” he said. “I’m really fortunate to be a 23-year-old kid with the opportunity to make the roster. If I make it, that’s where every professional baseball player wants to be, on the big league roster. If I don’t make it, I’m happy to be wherever I’m playing because I feel blessed. We’re all blessed as baseball players to be playing this game, especially to make a living at it.”