Tervell potentially next up in Johnson batting order

July 14th, 2023
Tervell Johnson (left) receives coaching from brother Tervont with Frederick in the MLB Draft League.

TRENTON, N.J. -- Being the third-oldest of a four-brother set in his Georgia home, Tervell Johnson would stay up late with his younger sibling in their shared bedroom and do the most brotherly thing possible -- talk trash.

“We’d be getting at each other like, ‘Bro, I’m better,'” said Tervell. “You know how brothers are. But mainly, we just talked about baseball -- about how he feels, how his swing feels, what we see as our dreams, goals, aspirations. We talked about it all. We can talk hitting all day.”

That brother is last year’s No. 4 overall pick and Pirates top prospect Termarr Johnson, whose walkup song for Single-A Bradenton is “Twin Time” by second-oldest brother Terrenz. Tervell just finished up a stint with the Frederick Keys in the MLB Draft League. One of his coaches in that circuit was eldest sibling Tervont, a former Division I player with stints at Eastern Kentucky, Georgia State and Georgia Tech.

As the kids spread out across the country, the national pastime remains a family affair in the Johnson household.

“Tervont was an exceptional player,” said their mother, Kim Johnson. “When he was growing up, there was always a vibe in the community that he could make it one day. And they all just fell in line and ran with it. There was a running joke of ‘Who’s the best Johnson?’”

Injuries pushed Tervont toward the coaching route, but with his brother’s assistance, Tervell still has his role in deciding that question. The former Georgia Tech recruit spent the spring at Compton (Junior) College, where he batted .378/.447/.589 with three homers and 13 steals in 23 games. That earned the 20-year-old outfielder an invitation to the MLB Draft League, a six-team circuit designed to give Draft-eligible players a showcase platform just before the 20-round process begins this Sunday.

Tervell ran with that chance with Frederick, producing a .356/.443/.525 line with a homer, seven doubles and 13 stolen bases in 16 games. He walked nine times and struck out on only 10 occasions over 71 plate appearances for a club with 13-year Major Leaguer René Rivera serving as its manager and longtime Twins outfielder Jacque Jones as its hitting coach. But it’s Tervont, the fourth member of the coaching staff, with whom Tervell has decades' worth of chemistry.

“His main phrase this summer has been, ‘Play with your eyes,’” Tervell said. “Most people when they hear that, they think, ‘Bro, obviously.’ But I truly got to understand what that means -- basically letting the game tell you what to do, letting the game dictate how you should react. He has little phrases like that that help out.”

After not hearing his name called during the 2023 Draft, Tervell is still seeking transfer openings to four-year schools to carry forward his momentum from Frederick.

“I just want to be in a good opportunity, whether it’s college or pro ball,” he said. “Somewhere where I’m on the field consistently and I have teammates and coaches backing me. Whether that’s pro or college, it is what it is, but I’ll be ready.”

If any scouts are listening, his youngest brother provided a strong endorsement.

“He’s super talented,” Termarr told MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo in June. “I’m going to be honest, he has a little bit more pop than me. We’re keeping it in the family, making sure he does his part every day and trusts the process.”

Tervell won’t fight that designation … too hard.

“I can confirm that. Nah, I’m joking,” Tervell said. “That kid can hit the ball a long way. I don’t know. He might have a little bit more power than me. He’s a good hitter. Seriously, he’s one of my favorite hitters of all time.”

Kim Johnson hugs son Termarr while the rest of the family celebrates at the 2023 Draft.

A year ago, the Johnsons gathered in Los Angeles for Termarr’s big Draft day when the Pirates selected him in the fourth overall spot out of Atlanta’s Mays High School. Currently ranked as MLB Pipeline’s No. 28 overall prospect, the youngest member of the family had one of the best hit tools in recent Draft history -- earning 70 grades on the 20-80 scouting scale -- while showing some promising pop from the left side.

His education in the box, his mother contends, was compounded over years from what each of his brothers picked up in backyards and diamonds across Georgia and passed along to him in every circumstance possible, including those late-night chats.

“He just sucked up everything from everyone,” she said. “He capitalized on things they didn’t do well, things they did do well. He capitalized on all of it. And he always had to play up in the house.”

It’s been an up-and-down couple of months in Termarr’s first full season in the Florida State League -- he battled an early hamstring injury and entered Friday with a .229/.389/.391 line through his first 57 games -- but as he sets out on his own, familial support is never far away. Kim Johnson has already traveled to Bradenton this summer and plans to head back to the Sunshine State next week. She was in Frederick for the opening of Draft League play and headed to Trenton on Wednesday when Tervell was named to the showcase's Prospect Game, though he didn’t play due to an ankle injury.

A former 200-meter dash runner herself at Georgia Tech, Kim accepted long ago that her sons gravitated most toward baseball -- after giving them a taste of football, basketball, soccer, golf and, yes, track -- and stuck by her maternal mantra: “whatever’s needed.”

“I stepped back and let them be whatever they were supposed to be, tried to nourish it and be as supportive as best I could,” she said. “There was a period where Tervell was actually a better football player than a baseball player, so I didn’t know if that was going to be his gig. I just tried to play a supportive role, whatever their dreams were.”

All those years and miles of travel later, one son is on a prominent path toward the Majors, and another is close to a similar opportunity with his brother alongside coaching him up. The Johnsons are on their way to becoming one of baseball’s most notable families, even if this all feels to them like another day at the ballpark.

“Are we?” asked Kim Johnson of the designation. “We’ll accept it. I guess we just live it.”