As the Orioles front office started shifting into draft decision mode a couple of weeks ago, Mike Elias told O’s reporters that the team had narrowed its choices down to five players. We’re not likely to hear from Elias’s lips who the five guys are. Based on what’s been written by draft prognosticators, one player under consideration from the Orioles, especially if they decide they want to pursue an underslot strategy, is Georgia high school infielder Termarr Johnson.
Two years ago, the Orioles went a different direction from the conventional wisdom that “everyone” expected when they decided to draft Heston Kjerstad instead of Austin Martin. I was among those disappointed at the time. Martin sounded, from the reports of the draft writers, like an exciting prospect. He’s currently slugging .313 at Double-A. Elias and company having a different preference looks like a good decision, even with all the bad luck that’s surrounded Kjerstad until the last month-plus.
This history is worth keeping in mind because it’s possible that the Orioles are about to run this play again in 2022. If you’re a draft-interested fan who’s spent the spring and early summer reading about Druw Jones, who sits atop most draft prospect rankings, he might be the guy you’ve gotten interested in. I am the same way. Everything about Jones sounds good to me.
Elias sure has a lot more information about these guys for making his decision than us. He might decide differently than conventional wisdom again. In a mock draft last night, MLB Pipeline’s Jonathan Mayo picked that the Orioles would select Jones, but added that Johnson could be “the best option in terms of getting a really good player and saving the most money.”
Johnson is not seen as a candidate to be taken either second or third if the Orioles don’t pick him, though two recent mock drafts - this one from Mayo as well as one from Keith Law - have Johnson being selected fourth. The MLB Pipeline draft prospect ranking, to which Mayo contributes, lists Johnson as the #4 prospect in the draft. Law’s ranking at The Athletic puts Johnson as the #3 prospect.
Even though Johnson isn’t ranked as #1 on these lists, you don’t have to go very far into his scouting report to find something exciting. Here’s Law on Johnson:
Johnson has the best pure hit tool in the draft class, with scouts saying it’s the best hit tool they’ve seen on a high school kid in a decade or more. Despite a small hitch in his swing, he does hit all pitch types and controls the zone, with outstanding hand-eye coordination and great bat speed, making good quality contact but with only average power.
Given how much a position player’s ability to hit a baseball is ultimately going to have a say in how good of a player he is, there are worse things than thinking your favorite baseball team is considering a prospect with “the best pure hit tool in the draft class ... with outstanding hand-eye coordination and great bat speed” for its top pick in the draft. It’s not the only thing that matters, but it sure doesn’t hurt.
Pipeline’s capsule on Johnson might be even more effusive about the hit tool:
He has a track record of pummeling pitchers on the showcase circuit and some evaluators give his bat top-of-the-scale 80 grades. One scout gave him a double Hall of Famer comparison by calling him a combination of Wade Boggs’ plate discipline and Vladimir Guerrero Sr.’s bat-to-ball skills. ... Johnson’s hand-eye coordination and swing decisions make him an elite contact hitter from the left side of the plate ... his ability to barrel balls along with his bat speed and strength could make him a 25-30 homer threat in the big leagues.
It’s kind of a running joke that scouts just love throwing out optimistic comparisons of prospects to current star big leaguers or even Hall of Fame players. Termarr Johnson is almost certainly not going to be a combination of Wade Boggs and Vladimir Guerrero Sr. at the plate, but the scout couldn’t help himself.
Even without that, here’s another view of good hand-eye coordination and bat speed, as well as praise for Johnson’s swing decisions. This sounds like a good player! Of course, plenty of guys sound like good players in their pre-draft scouting reports who for one reason or another end up as busts as MLBers, or maybe they don’t even make it to MLB.
One more thing on top of a player’s more measurable physical talent that tends to determine how good he is involves his attitude, or as the scouting world calls it, makeup. Law had praise for this as well:
He has exceptional makeup in every evaluation, from his feel for the game to the way he acts as an additional coach on the field to the interviews he’s had with scouts and team executives, so there’s greater confidence that he’ll reach his ceiling than there is for just about any high school player.
My first reaction when I see some scouts or evaluators raving about a player’s makeup is to roll my eyes. To fans, this is totally invisible. It won’t directly show up in a box score, stat line, or anything measured by a Trackman camera or Statcast calculation. Yet from reading everything Elias has said about the draft over the years, it’s clear makeup is important to him.
Some guys have an “it” that either makes them able to be the best version of themselves as players, or makes the players around them better. A team that can find that “it” in an already-talented player is doing well for itself. By the same token, though you see “bad makeup” written down much less often, a player with a poor attitude is less likely to get the most out of his own talent and might cause discontent around him as well.
For another example of a player who got a lot of great raves about his makeup, look at Adley Rutschman. Scouting reports were effusive about his attitude. Before actually seeing him for myself, I kept thinking, “Can it really be that great?” Anyone who’s been watching him catch since his debut now has a pretty good idea: Yes, it can, and it is!
Some video of Johnson in action in the field and in batting practice at a Perfect Game showcase a couple of months ago:
If Johnson is really the guy described by multiple different reports, and the Orioles scouting process has led them to believe that he might be, then it’s not hard to see what might draw them in the direction where they are giving serious consideration to choosing him on Sunday night. That’s especially true if Johnson might sign for $1.5 million under the $8.8 million slot value for the first pick, enabling the Orioles to potentially get creative in adding higher-ranked talent with one or more of their other four picks in the draft’s first 81 spots.
Previously: Druw Jones