Pirates’ top-pick Johnson eager to get to PNC Park

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Termarr Johnson had only hit at PNC Park as a computer avatar before Friday, the video-game version of the 18-year-old infield prospect blasting homers into the Allegheny River with ease.

Reality turned out to be far more thrilling. Lucrative too.

Shortly after Johnson signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates — who used a $7,219,000 bonus to lock down the fourth overall pick in the amateur draft — he grabbed a bat and sent...

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PITTSBURGH (AP) — Termarr Johnson had only hit at PNC Park as a computer avatar before Friday, the video-game version of the 18-year-old infield prospect blasting homers into the Allegheny River with ease.

Reality turned out to be far more thrilling. Lucrative too.

Shortly after Johnson signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates — who used a $7,219,000 bonus to lock down the fourth overall pick in the amateur draft — he grabbed a bat and sent a handful of balls ricocheting off various parts of the outer reaches of his future home, including one that clanged off the roof of the bar area beyond the right-center field seats well over 400 feet away from home plate.

“It’s everything I dreamed of,” Johnson said. “(The) backdrop with the bridge and the water and everything, it’s really amazing.”

Johnson insists he didn’t admire his handiwork, though more than a few of the current members of the Pirates turned to look. The “thwack” the ball made as it exploded off of Johnson’s bat offering a little hint of what Johnson hopes is to come whenever he arrives in Pittsburgh to stay.

If the confident teenager — a swagger born of self-reliance as the youngest of Terry and Kim Johnson’s four sons — has his way, he’ll be in the majors sooner rather than later.

“I’d be up here tomorrow. I’d be up here today. I’d be up here tonight,” he said with a laugh. “I know that the Pirates have a plan for me. They’ll know when I’m ready, and I’ll know when I’m ready. We’re just going to make it happen.”

Johnson raised eyebrows when he called himself the best player in the draft minutes after the Pirates selected the 5-foot-10, 175-pound high schooler from Atlanta and promised to bring a championship to a city that hasn’t won a World Series title since 1979.

Yes, it’s aggressive. That’s just Johnson’s way.

“I was being real with what I thought,” he said. “It’s true — everything I’m going to do in this organization, with the game of baseball. I still stand by it.”

Pittsburgh, which entered Friday on its way to a fourth straight losing season, is still in the earlyish stages of general manager Ben Cherington’s top-to-bottom reclamation project. Johnson is likely several years away from reaching the majors, by which time other top picks like pitcher Quinn Priester (2019), infielder Nick Gonzalez (2020) and catcher Henry Davis (2021) could be waiting for him.

Cherington is intent on stockpiling young talent, which is why the Pirates raced at the chance to grab Johnson even though they knew an agreement might take a little time. And a little money.

A year after spending less than the slot value to sign Davis, last year’s top overall pick, the Pirates went $213,200 over slot to lock down Johnson. Cherington, however, cautioned to not read too much into the ever fiscally-conscious club’s decision to open its wallet a bit to avoid protracted talks.

“We’re going to spend every dollar that we can on the draft and get the best possible players we can,” Cherington said. “So I don’t think (the signing) is different than that’s happened the last couple years.’

Johnson will report to the team’s complex in Bradenton, Florida, early next week. While Johnson’s bat draws a lot of attention, Cherington stressed the front office hardly considers Johnson one-dimensional.

“We think he’s got a chance to be a really well-rounded player also,” Cherington said. “He’s got instincts on defense. Good hands. He can make plays from different angles. Acrobatic plays. … He’s an exciting young man.”

One eager to get to work. He knows the numbers he put up during his final season at Mays (Ga.) High School — .417 with eight doubles, five triples, nine home runs and 23 stolen bases — don’t matter anymore. He’s a pro now. Time to start from scratch once again.

In that sense, the swagger is a bit of an act. Johnson worked hard to get paid to play. He knows he’ll have to work even harder to stick.

“ I like to downplay a lot, stay level-headed with everything going on,” he said. “Realize that I’m reaching a goal and getting ready to reach another goal.”

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