'Best player in the Draft': Bucs take Termarr Johnson at No. 4

July 18th, 2022

PITTSBURGH -- Termarr Johnson was in tears as he walked up to embrace 11-year Pirates infielder Kevin Young and don the team’s black-and-yellow jersey for the first time in what the club hopes will be a long pro career.

But underlying that emotion is a confidence that has propelled the 5-foot-10 infielder, whom Pittsburgh selected with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2022 MLB Draft, to where he found himself in that moment. A confidence that led Johnson to make a grand but succinct description of what the Pirates are getting in him.

"They're getting the best player in the Draft."

Where does that swagger come from? Well, for one, it’s a product of the skills he possesses as a player. And though it will take a while to determine if Johnson proves this statement to be correct, the consensus among prospect experts seems to agree with him on the hitting side.

According to MLB Pipeline, which rated him as its No. 4 Draft prospect, “he might be the best pure prep hitter in decades.” Pipeline awarded Johnson with a 70 hit tool on the 20-to-80 scouting scale, while acknowledging that some evaluators consider him a rare 80 hitter. One anonymous scout compared Johnson to two Hall of Famers -- Wade Boggs (for plate discipline) and Vladimir Guerrero (for bat-to-ball skills).

“I like to call myself not the best hitter; I like to say I’m the smartest hitter,” Johnson said. “At the end of the day, I know whatever I want to do in the box. It varies for every at-bat, but I kind of have a knack of what I want to do in each at-bat. I know how to adjust.”

Don’t let Johnson’s 5-foot-10 frame fool you about his power either. He received a 60 scouting grade from MLB Pipeline for his power, thanks to his bat speed and strength. Don’t believe it? In the summer of 2021, Johnson launched 24 homers in two rounds at the All-Star High School Home Run Derby at Coors Field, including six of at least 450 feet.

"He can hit everything," Pirates senior director of amateur scouting Joe DelliCarri said. "He’s got a dynamic swing, but he’s got a dynamic feel with his hands to make adjustments. He’s got a lot of things going in his favor."

Though Johnson is projected to be a second baseman in the long term -- the sort of label that would seemingly keep a prospect from elite status -- the Pirates listed him as a shortstop, his natural position.

“He’ll go out as a shortstop,” Pirates GM Ben Cherington said. "We think he can play there. As you know, most of our shortstops get exposed on both sides of the bag at some point [and that] probably will be the case for him, too."

MLB Pipeline’s experts expect him to switch positions, saying “his quickness and arm are more average than plus.” But Johnson believes he has the tools and drive necessary to be a productive shortstop at the MLB level. At Mays High School in Atlanta, he played the position with a strong acumen. He says he models his defensive game after players like Francisco Lindor and Trea Turner -- though his biggest MLB inspiration has always been second baseman Robinson Canó -- and he feels he’s only gotten stronger at the position.

“You can go on my YouTube right now, and it's nothing but fielding videos -- how guys go about their business, the warmups and everything like that,” Johnson said. “I had a chance to work with Ron Washington, so we've been able to work on me being better as a fielder and having more knowledge of the game and how I can be a better shortstop.”

Washington, the legendary MLB coach who serves as the Braves’ infield instructor, is just one in a long line of mentors for Johnson, but the list begins with his oldest brother, Tervont.

Being the youngest of four brothers, Termarr was always challenged and pushed by them to be better than he was yesterday -- they were never going to take it easy on him -- which helped him sharpen his confidence. The elder Johnson, who played baseball at Georgia State and Georgia Tech, was the one who was always ready to throw for hours and hours in the cage.

“I remember saying in sixth grade, ‘That’s my hero,’ because he’s taught me a lot about life and [handling] everything that goes on in life, whether it’s good or bad,” Johnson said of Tervont. “I’m thankful for everything, because he’s always been in my corner, whether working out deals or just tossing balls to me in the cage.”

Before there was cage work with his older brother while growing into the youth baseball ranks, Johnson was a 3-year-old kid swinging a 30-inch bat 30 times a day. And then, as he recalls it: "Those 30 swings turned into 100 swings, and those 100 swings turned into 200 swings.”

Fifteen years later, and after the 15 minutes of phone calls, hearing his name called and conducting his first round of interviews, that’s the part Johnson -- a “baseball rat” in his own words -- is most ready for: the grind.

“I’m excited,” Johnson said. “To be honest, I am happy that those 15 minutes are over, because now it’s less about Draft and it’s more about work. I’m ready to get to work.”