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PG Select Baseball Festival | General | 8/31/2019

14u Fest duo doubles down

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Manuel Beltre, Termarr Johnson (Perfect Game)

See also: Fun-filled Friday at 14u Fest

FORT MYERS, Fla. – They arrived here from different countries and different cultures but also while sharing a love for the game of baseball and a passion to make it their life’s work.

And in that respect, at least, Manuel Beltre from the Dominican Republic and the state of Georgia’s own Termarr Johnson have much more in common than any differences that might exist on the periphery.

Beltre and Johnson are two of the top shortstop prospects from the class of 2022, although Beltre’s status as an international free agent prevents him from being included in Perfect Game’s national prospect rankings. Johnson, on the other hand, comes in at No. 3 overall and No. 1 at his position.

And by being here at this weekend’s 4th annual PG 14u Select Baseball Festival, they also share another rare distinction as top prospects who have been invited to this prestigious all-star event two consecutive years, both having been here last Labor Day Weekend, as well.

“I was excited because it’s such a fun, prestigious event,” Johnson told PG Saturday morning when asked what his feelings were after being extended a second straight invitation to the Select Fest. “Many people don’t get the chance to actually be a part of this event, so for me to do it two times, it’s like a blessing.

“I’m just excited to be here,” he added. “I did this last year and got a chance to play on TV, and now I get to do it again, so that’s just what I’m thinking.”

Beltre said that he, too, was really pleased to be invited back to the 14u Select Fest especially because he was unable to attend this year’s 14u PG National Showcase after earning Top Prospect List recognition at that event a year ago.

“When I first found out that I was coming back to the PG Select Festival, I was so excited because it’s a (great) experience,” he told PG on Saturday during a second practice session at the jetBlue Park Player Development Complex. “They treat you like you’re in the big leagues, you play in a big league spring training stadium; the experience is awesome.”

The two standout shortstops are similar physically, with Beltre, who is from Santo Domingo, coming in at 5-foot-11, 160-pounds, and Johnson, from Atlanta, checking in at 5-9, 145. They’re known primarily for their glove-work in the field but both can also get it done at the plate, with Beltre hitting from the right side and Johnson from the left.

Consider the pre-event scouting reports filed by PG National Crosschecker Jheremy Brown that seemingly mirror one another. This is what he wrote, in part, on Beltre, an FIU commit:

“(Beltre’s) defensive actions are among the best in attendance with silky smooth hands and footwork and the feel for the barrel comes naturally.”

Brown basically repeated himself when reporting his observations on Johnson, who is uncommitted:

“(Johnson) features some of the fastest hands in the country offensively and some of the smoothest defensively, exuding confidence in everything he does. While flashy in the infield, his left-handed stroke and natural feel for the barrel are what have attracted the likes of every college recruiter.”

Johnson made his PG debut at a 12u One Day Showdown tournament in 2017, an event at which he was named the Most Valuable Player. He’s been rostered at 35 other PG events since that debut, and his trophy room is crammed with 15 all-tournament team selections and Top Prospect List recognition from the 2017 14u PG National Showcase.

He speaks confidently of a three-year regimen that has involved an endless cycle of development-baseball, baseball-development and, finally, development-baseball.

“That’s been my daily journey, waking up, going to sleep and then just baseball (in between),” Johnson said. “I’ve been trying to develop and I’ve been trying to keep myself in position to even be looked at by these Perfect Game guys because they’re so selective. For me to be good enough to even be looked at by them, it’s just a blessing for me.”

At last year’s PG 14u Select Baseball Festival Awards Dinner, Johnson was named the 14u Rawlings Defensive Player of the Year and had a legitimate shot at receiving that honor again at Saturday night’s 2019 Awards Dinner. He takes a lot of pride in his play defensively, as well he should.

“Every day I just try to work on getting more athletic, staying on my feet and getting my hands working through the baseball and following through with the baseball so I can make very accurate throws so the first baseman or anyone else I’m throwing it to doesn’t have any problems,” he said.

Simply by being invited back to the Select Fest this Labor Day Weekend is proof aplenty that Beltre and Johnson were among the youngest participants at the 2018 event; they both celebrated their 15th birthday two months ago.

“I just tried to do my best,” Beltre said about performing at the 2018 Select Fest. “I was a year younger and I didn’t have the same power as the older kids, so I just tried to hit the ball in the gaps. This year I’ve got more experience and I’m more relaxed because I know all the (PG) people.”

He was speaking specifically of guys like PG Vice President of National Development and 14u Select Baseball Festival founder Ben Ford and the PG National Crosschecker Brown, both of whom have been and still are recognizable figures at all four Select Festivals to date.

Like almost all the top guys here, Beltre and Johnson have spent almost their entire PG careers to date playing up an age-group or two. Beltre has found that experience to be nothing but beneficial.

How so? Well, when a 13-year-old is facing a 16-year-old who is throwing his fastball in the low 90s, just think how accustomed the 13-year-old is going to be seeing that pitch when he, too, is 16. If valuable lessons are learned early on and used wisely, an international free agent prospect like Beltre – he’s eligible to sign with MLB teams on July 2, 2020 – can pocket considerable bonus money moving forward.

Beltre is a Dominican native and the city of Santo Domingo is where he makes his home, but he spends a lot of his time in the States, just playing baseball; he attends school at the Sports Academy back home. He has been rostered at 40 PG events since debuting at the 2017 WWBA 14u East Memorial Day Classic, and has earned 17 all-tournament selections, most while playing with Resmondo FTB teams.

He has also been included on the Top Prospect List at the 2018 14u Florida Showcase, the 2018 14u National Showcase and the 2019 PG World Showcase, held in January in Kissimmee, Fla.

The showcase environment is something that Beltre is very comfortable in simply because – as cliché as it might be – he feels like being around the best will only bring out his best, and the competition, regardless of how friendly it may be, can also be intense.

“When you’re at shortstop, you want to (field) it clean and throw to first with all of your arm (strength), and when you’re at the tee and doing the Diamond Kinetics stuff, you want to swing hard and see what your exit velo is,” Beltre said. “When you’re playing like that you get more experience and you get better every single day.”

By growing up and still living in the Dominican Republic, Beltre has become immersed in a baseball culture that churns out high-level prospects on a disproportionate level for its population, at least when looking at major league rosters.

Dominicans play the game with a lot of emotion and an almost unrivaled passion that makes the sport a tremendously exciting pursuit for players and fans alike.

But, it also needs to be pointed out that the Georgia high school baseball scene is as vibrant as any in the country, producing high draft picks and future college stars on an annual basis, and Johnson is a product of that; he is a sophomore at Mays High School in Atlanta.

Having risen to No. 3 in the national rankings has shined a bigger slice of the spotlight on Johnson, but he embraces whatever challenge that bright light might present. In fact, that lofty ranking he enjoys just short of the top spot serves as motivation.

“I’m always like, all right, I’m good enough to be No. 1, I need to be No. 1 and I need to work harder to be No. 1,” he said. “My mind-set has basically been nobody can beat you but you’ve got to do better because you’re never good enough. Just keep doing what you’re doing and try to be better every day.”

The thing that both Beltre and Johnson are enjoying the most about their second go-around at the PG 14u Select Baseball Festival is the camaraderie they enjoy with the other attendees, even if it is an entirely new collection of prospects this year, save each other.

Johnson talked about how just being around all these other talented players shows him why he has to continue to work at getting better every day. But he also talked about just how much fun it is to be around them, hanging out and feeding off of each other’s youthful energy.

“We’re very relaxed and we try to be kids as much as we can,” he said. “When we’re off the baseball field we’re always trying to socialize with each other but when it’s time talk baseball, that’s when we talk baseball.”

They’re from different countries but they have been brought together in the world of PG, and they both speak the language of baseball fluently.

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