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JR Towles and Chris Johnson: Comparing their rise to the majors

When Ty Wigginton wasn't tendered a contract last week, the team began to weigh their options for 2009. Geoff Blum is under contract, and figures to get a significant number of ABs at the position. After that, it's really anyone's guess. DQ mentioned that the team has their eyes on Chris Gomez, and that there are other veteran options that will be weighed this off season.

Chris Johnson is the more youthful choice, and one that the team seems to be taking seriously. After collecting a 15 XBH in 98 ABs in the AFL and posting an .870 OPS for AA Corpus Christi, Ed Wade is prepared to give the 25 year old a chance to win the starting job this spring training.

How optimistic should the team really be about Mr. Johnson? He would offer a breath of fresh air. Chris Gomez, Geoff Blum and other older players would serve as place-keepers until Johnson is ready. It would be nice to have him play well in the spring, and actually make the major league roster. Hunter Pence was denied the chance in 2007, but Ed Wade seems more willing to promote youth. We saw this willingness in his September promotion of JR Towles in September 2007. In 100 minor league games in 2007, Towles posted this line:

AB H HR OPS (Corpus Christi)
OPS (Round Rock)
JR Towles 349 100 11 .976 .633

After posting a plus 1.000 OPS in 40 major league ABs in September, he barely managed to achieve half (.503) that number in 2008.

The minor league line of Chris Johnson is as follows:

AB H HR OPS (Corpus Christi) OPS (Round Rock)
Chris Johnson 431 129 13 .870 .539

Note the similar decline in OPS, once each player reached AAA. Johnson had 101 ABs in Round Rock this past year, whereas Towles had only 43 before he was called up in September. With Johnson struggling as badly as he did in his September stint for the Express, I wouldn't hold my breath as far as him coming into Spring Training and winning the job. As we saw from Towles' .304/.370/.500 line for Round Rock this past season, it probably will take Johnson some more time on the farm before he's ready to man the hot corner for the big league club.