No. 1? This Draft prospect aims even higher

July 28th, 2021

CARY, N.C. -- The signs are not exactly subtle.

The walkway from the parking lot out front to the four diamonds that make up the USA Baseball National Training Complex is filled with faces that are familiar to anyone who has followed the MLB Draft in recent years. Dansby Swanson. Mickey Moniak. Royce Lewis. Casey Mize. Adley Rutschman. Spencer Torkelson. A sign out front has all their names as well, next to two numbers that are, in fact, the same number: 1-1.

Players participating in this year’s Prospect Development Pipeline (PDP) League can’t miss them on their journeys from the buses to the fields, these reminders of what could come from donning a USA Baseball jersey for even one week in late July. But for only a few of the 96 is the first overall pick a possibility. Termarr Johnson is one of them, even if he won’t let his mind wander that far yet.

“I'm just trying to get through this summer,” he said. “Try to show my talents. Whatever happens next year, that's just what happens. We have a whole year before Draft time comes around, so I'm just trying to focus on PDP, have fun, make teams, do everything that I can to accomplish my goals.”

Johnson’s long-term goals? Those are a bit less modest.

“I want to be a Hall of Famer,” he said. “I don't want to be just get drafted. I don't want to be just that role player. I want to be one of the best players in MLB.”

It isn’t hard to see why others’ short-term views on Johnson and his long-term views of himself can be so optimistic.

Heading into this summer, Johnson is an early favorite to be the best prep hitter in the 2022 Draft class. Hitting from the left side, the Georgia native generates tons of bat speed and good instincts in the box that make it difficult to sneak any pitch past him. Even though he stands at a listed 5-foot-10 -- which might be generous by an inch or two -- he has little trouble translating his quick hands into over-the-fence power. Johnson clubbed 24 homers -- six of which were 450-plus feet -- over two rounds during the All-Star High School Home Run Derby at Coors Field on July 10. Six days later, he laced a 93 mph fastball several rows into the Tropicana Field right-field seats at the Perfect Game Showcase.

“It definitely comes from my legs,” he said. “My swing is really all legs, and I'll just let my hands follow through. I’m a guy that's not very tall and not very big. At the end of the day for everybody, your legs are supposed to be the strongest part of your body, so I try to focus on that and make my legs the biggest parts of my swing.”

That sweet swing has made Johnson a player in demand this summer. Since his junior season ended at Mays High School in Atlanta, the middle infielder has participated in multiple tournaments for the East Cobb Astros, including winning the 17U WWBA National Championship. There were the showcases in Denver and St. Petersburg. There will be stops at East Coast Pro and Area Code Games. On top of all that, he’s hoping to head to Tampa in late August for 18U National Team Trials, where the PDP rosters are cut from 96 to 40, and then onto Sarasota for the 20-man WBSC U-18 Baseball World Cup roster.

It’s a lot of baseball, but Johnson has a plan to stick out beyond his bat. He’s going to be loud. He’s going to be friendly. He’s going to be a person for everyone to remember.

“When I go out there and play, I try to let my personality show,” he said. “Be that guy who makes sure guys know where they are and where they should be. Make sure guys are laidback, having fun. What I always want to do at showcases is get good numbers, have fun, show a good personality and be respected.”

The approach is making people notice.

“You can’t have a roster of 20 followers,” said USA Baseball director of player development Jim Koerner. “You need to have leaders. You need to have guys that are vocal. There are some guys that are quiet, and that combination culminates into a perfect roster blend. But he certainly plays his role in that.”

There are still some open questions about Johnson.

He is spending his time at PDP at both shortstop and second base out of concerns that an average arm might play better at the latter. Koerner described Johnson’s defensive play as “smooth,” and the player himself said he’s willing to play center field or left if it gets him in a PDP lineup every day. He’s also uncommitted when it comes to college, though he said that’s a result of his approach of taking things one day at a time and focusing on the many events still ahead of him.

And who could blame him? Johnson’s attempts to join the likes of Torkelson, Rutschman and Mize will butt up against other No. 1 overall hopefuls in Elijah Green, Druw Jones and the 93 other prep players at the PDP League. Before Cooperstown, before the Draft, comes this week in Cary.

“There are a lot of guys with a lot of talents at these events,” Johnson said. “I try to separate myself because everybody has a different skill level, but I want to separate myself as a person too. I try to get people to really know me as person. I’m always fun to be around, and I want to be a leader for these guys.”