The Pittsburgh Pirates concluded the 2022 MLB Draft on Tuesday and now turn their attention to signing as many players as possible from the new group.
In a year where the Bucs selected 15 pitchers and a two-way player with their 21 selections, all eyes will be fixated on a middle infielder with outrageous potential.
Pittsburgh picked shortstop/second baseman Termarr Johnson No. 4 overall from Mays High School in Georgia, being raved as potentially the best pure prep hitter in decades.
The 18-year-old lefty swinger grades well with numerous organizations, including MLB Pipeline. Johnson owns a 70-hit tool, 60 power, and 55 fielding grade on a 20-80 scale.
Once proclaimed by a scout as having “a combination of Wade Boggs’ plate discipline and Vladimir Guerrero Sr.’s bat-to-ball skills,” Johnson joins a crowded infield core throughout the Pirates organization.
Johnson was considered a threat to be taken first overall by the Baltimore Orioles, who chose former Cardinal and Pirate killer Matt Holliday’s son Jackson Holliday, and sees himself remaining at shortstop once he reaches the Majors.
Once Johnson enters the Pirates’ Top 30 Prospects list, likely in the top three, four of the Bucs top six prospects will all be middle infielders. Johnson joins Oneil Cruz (currently No. 2), Nick Gonzales (No. 3), and Liover Peguero (No. 5) in fighting for short and second base jobs.
As soon as Johnson was announced, confetti cannons reigned supreme over parts of Pirates’ social media channels, some fans praising the selection, while others were irritated the Pirates passed on outfielder Elijah Green, selected by the Washington Nationals one pick later. Many began to question Gonzales and Peguero’s futures with the organization, envisioning a double-play combination of Cruz and Johnson for years to come.
Pump the breaks. Come to a complete stop. Now that there’s been time to process, think about this clearly.
The Pirates took the best player available, or the best in the draft as Johnson proclaimed, regardless of position. The MLB Draft is by far the least impactful on the current roster or landscape of the professional team out of the core four American sports.
NFL and NBA draft picks are chosen and often expected to start and thrive right away, at least in the position where the Pirates picked. The NHL is similar to baseball, but even their expected timeline for prospects to make an impact is shorter.
Baseball is arguably the toughest sport to play, if it's even an argument at all.
In reality, Johnson is four years away from making his MLB debut, three if he stays healthy and completely tears the cover off the ball. High school prospects take an extended amount of time to develop compared to college hitters. Henry Davis, the Pirates’ first overall pick in 2021, is in Double-A already despite multiple injuries and being a ball magnet for hit-by-pitches.
A former college catcher now 22 years old with an advanced skillset, Ben Cherington and company are being aggressive with Davis and pushing the organization’s top prospect to make an impact on the Majors around the same time as Gonzales, Peguero, Mike Burrows, Quinn Priester, and others.
I don’t see the same aggression and acceleration process with Johnson. Potentially more like Anthony Solometo who’s having success with the Bradenton Marauders in A-ball.
Trading Gonzales and/or Peguero is completely ridiculous and flabbergasting to even consider.
Johnson will probably not crack the majors until 2026, when Gonzales and Peguero have already soaked their feet into Major League waters. Cruz could have a long-term contract extension, if the Pirates find a way to complete a deal, or be in a position like Bryan Reynolds is currently, looking to stick around but not sure if his future remains in the Steel City.
Gonzales has been hampered by slow starts and injuries, but the 2020 first-round pick and first selection by Cherington in Pittsburgh has crushed the ball when on the field, hitting 23 doubles and 18 home runs for Greensboro last season with a .950 OPS.
Only hitting .247 in 43 games for Altoona, the 23-year-old has not played since May 31 with a heel injury. Peguero, on the other hand, made a brief cameo in Pittsburgh on June 18, collecting his first Major League hit in the process.
The 21-year-old is hitting .275 with six homers, 38 RBI and 20 steals in 306 at-bats in 76 games. Acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Starling Marte trade, Peguero is a plus defender who might be the most suitable to handle the diamond’s most difficult infield position.
The Pirates drafted based on the best player on their board, disregarding the position he plays. This is not like football when the Pittsburgh Steelers could pick an offensive tackle but a defensive lineman is the best available, yet select someone based on need.
In no way does the acquisition of Termarr Johnson become a detriment to Gonzales and Peguero impacting the Pirates. Cruz could potentially still move positions to the outfield, first base, or DH despite outcries to keep him at short.
A move to add a big-name pitcher, similar to the Chris Archer deal yet expecting a 180 in results, is one way the Pirates could address the logjam in a few years. I doubt they’d try it again unless the team is bound to win 98 games again.
Regardless, Johnson, Peguero, Gonzales, and Cruz all have one thing in common outside of their spots on the field: the ability to help the Pirates win meaningful games in August, September, and into October.
If that’s the case, the Pirates will have enough solid players to contribute in multiple positions. A problem? That’s a good one to have.
The process will play out over years to come with Cruz already getting started, Peguero and Gonzales ready to knock on the door, and Johnson the new kid in town ready to light the world on fire and bring a championship contender back to Pittsburgh.