The Tigers top prospect Jacob Turner takes the mound for the Tigers tonight against the Baltimore Orioles in what is likely his last appearance in 2011. Turner, who is just 20, has solidified himself as one of the better young prospects in the game, and has positioned himself with an opportunity to make the big league team with a good spring training in 2012. The Tigers have a history of pushing top prospects, and it appears that Turner will be no different, given that he is making his 3rd major league start tonight.
In his previous two starts, Turner has had one good and one bad. He made his debut July 30th against he Angels, impressing nearly everyone out there, going 5.2 innings, striking out 6, and only giving up 2 runs. In his 2nd start against the Kansas City Royals, Turner looked more like a rookie, going 4.1 innings and giving up 6 runs. In 9.2 total innings, Turner has an ERA of 7.45.
Are the Tigers doing the right thing getting Turner’s feet wet this soon however?
There are two schools of thought when it comes to developing players. The first thought is displayed by the Tampa Bay Rays, and that is patience. The Rays are widely known for displaying patience with their minor league players, almost to a fault sometimes. Perhaps if they would’ve brought Desmond Jennings up earlier, they might be in the Wild Card lead. Financial constraints also play into this for the Rays, as they don’t want their young players hitting free agency as fast. Wasting a year or two of development at the major league level cuts down the period of time they are cheap to the Rays and productive as a big leaguer.
The 2nd school of thought, is to challenge young players, by having them play at levels above where they probably should be. The thought would be that failure teaches players with superb talent how to adapt faster. The Red Sox and Tigers are two franchises that seem to subscribe to this theory. This theory can work just as well. It seemed to have worked for Justin Verlander and Alex Avila.
Given the Tigers philosophy, I would like to play devil’s advocate for a second and suggest that for 2012, the Tigers should slow down a little with Turner. I don’t have an issue with challenging players per se, however, the Tigers have a history of forcing the issue before they prove they can dominate their opponents. If the organization feels that AA isn’t a challenge for Turner, I would disagree with them. He didn’t dominate his competition this year.
In AA this season, Turner sported a 3.48 ERA in his 17 starts with the Erie Seawolves this season. While that is plenty good for AA at the age of 20, his k rate tells the story of a guy that is still learning how to pitch. Turner averaged 7.1 k/9 in AA. That is solid, but not dominant, and I personally would like the Tigers to wait a little bit in 2012 to bring Turner up as he continues to work on his secondary stuff. In contrast, Shelby Miller a 20 year old prospect in the Cardinals system averaged 9.2 k/9 in AA, and carried an ERA of 2.70. That is the kind of domination I would be looking for out of my top prospect before moving him up.
Turner’s readiness isn’t going to be determined by how he compares to Shelby Miller though, it’s going to be determined by how well he can handle big league hitters. If the Tigers feel Turner is ready to help the big club in 2012, he will start the season on the roster, but they need to make sure he earns it. The Tigers treat their top prospects like a shiny toy that they just have to use before that shine wears off. Sometimes those toys could look just as good with a little bit of polish first.
Either way, there is no disputing that Turner is a top prospect. It is always exciting to watch when a guy like him takes the mound. As Kramer once said to a Miss America contestant in a Seinfeld episode, “Poise counts!”. Turner has plenty of poise for a young man, and the stuff to match. His future is no doubt very bright indeed.
It certainly hasn’t hurt the Tigers to give Turner a little look at the big leagues this season, and probably hasn’t hurt Turner in the least either. After all, it’s just 3 starts. I think there is reason enough though for the Tigers to proceed with a little more caution than they have exercised in the past. Make him earn it in spring training next season.