The weather and the leaves may say fall outside, but this is the time for Osiris Johnson and other elite high school players to make a name for themselves.
Last weekend, Johnson played in the Ways to Play tournament, powered by MLB and Perfect Game in Cartersville, Ga. This week, he’s playing in the Perfect Game World Wooden Bat Association championship in Jupiter, Fla.
Johnson made the San Jose Mercury News’ All-Bay Area News Group Team last spring at Encinal (Alameda, Calif.), hitting .481 with 27 RBI and 20 stolen bases, but if he wants to go high in next June’s Amateur baseball draft, he and other recruits have to hit the summer and fall showcase events and tournaments.
“I grew as a player being with some of the best guys in the country and seeing what they do,” he said. “I saw what they do and put it in my workout so I could just as good or better than them. It’s pretty cool to see where I stand in other people’s eyes, but it also makes me want to keep climbing.”
Johnson is 6-1 and 185 and has the speed and glove tools to play nearly anywhere on the field, but he’d rather be in the infield. In August at the Perfect Game All-America Classic in San Diego, top recruit Brice Turang was at shortstop, so Johnson played second base. The other day in Cartersville, he was at third base.
“I like playing in the dirt,” Johnson said. “I like playing in the infield a lot more than the outfield. It’s more of a challenge and I like that challenge. I have been playing infield my whole life. I just started playing in the outfield last year, but infield has always been my main position.”
Encinal coach Jim Saunders said that Johnson has come a long way from his freshman year, when he hit .218.
“He struggled his freshman year, but since then, he has gotten better to the point where he has played tremendous baseball,” Saunders aid. “He developed into a kid who was very happy to play the game and I didn’t see that his first or second year.”
Johnson’s father Marcel was a minor league first baseman in the New York Mets’ organization. He said one reason his son is playing fall baseball tournaments is his play suffered last year when he didn’t.
“Last year was the first time we had him take off during the fall,” Marcel Johnson said. “Then he was called out to play in January to play in the Perfect Game All-American and Under Armour All-American Game tryouts. He tried to come in and wing it having not played recently and everything was down for him. People didn’t see him as a top prospect.”
One of Johnson’s cousins is former three-time major league all-star shortstop Jimmy Rollins and the other is Tony Tarasco, who played eight seasons as a major league outfielder. Johnson got to train with Rollins a bit this past summer. He also got to see the lifestyle a solid pro career could bring as Rollins allowed him to drive his Lamborghini, Marcel said.
“Now that I’ve gotten older, I’m working with Junior a lot more and he’s given me some tips to make me a better player,” Johnson said. “I went down three times (to Rollins’ home in Tampa) when I was playing in the Perfect Games Showcase and when I was trying to make the All-American Team and around here, I’ve seen him a few times.”
Encinal has a strong baseball tradition. The Jets have had six players drafted, including Rollins, Dontrelle Willis and Willie Stargell. Saunders coached the first two at Encinal and said that Johnson has the potential to play in the majors.
“He has the ability with his body, and arm strength and bat speed,” Saunders said. “He just has to get the mental side of the game down.”
Johnson, who has committed to Cal State Fullerton, won’t see the level of pitching during the spring that he does during summer and fall tournaments.
“He’ll probably face three other guys (during his high school season) who will give him some competition,” Marcel said. “I don’t think scouts will just find you any more. You have to get out there.”
Johnson just turned 17 and is younger than many of the players in the Class of 2018. Marcel, who runs the Top Flight Baseball Academy travel ball organization, said he can be his son’s toughest critic.
“It’s pretty much all on him,” says Marcel. “He has a decision to make as far as how good he can be and how much does he want it? I’m looking at his maturity and whether he’s ready to be responsible.”