In a recent interview with WDFN, Tigers manager Jim Leyland talked at length about prized right hander Jacob Turner. Turner, the Tigers first round pick in 2009, was the first name brought up in trade discussions with every club the Tigers contacted at the Winter Meetings, said Leyland.
That’s with good reason, of course. Turner was regarded as the best high school right hander in the 2009 draft class and his performance in his first season as a professional hasn’t changed that opinion at all. After just ten starts with Low-A West Michigan, Turner was promoted to Advanced A Lakeland, where he was a touch young for the league. His results didn’t show it.
After posting a 3.67 ERA in 54 innings with the Whitecaps, Turner lowered his ERA to 2.93 in his 13 starts and 61 innings with the Flying Tigers. in 115 innings last year, Turner walked just 23 batters while striking out 102. His WHIP was 1.118 for the season, but only 1.092 in Lakeland. As you would expect when going to a tougher league, Turner’s strikeout numbers dipped a bit with Lakeland, dropping from 8.5 per nine innings to 7.5 after his promotion.
Despite Rick Porcello‘s rapid rise to Detroit following just one season of professional ball, Leyland indicated that Turner likely won’t follow a similar path to the majors. Mlive’s Justin Rogers provides the quotes.
"“He’s wise beyond his age really,” Leyland said. “He probably has a better secondary pitch than Porcello did at this point in his career. He has an excellent curve ball”“He’s a guy we’re hoping can come along fast,” Leyland said. “I would say it would be a real, real longshot that he would break with the club out of spring training, although there are some people that think at some point during the season, a possibility. It’s still probably a bit of a longshot, but a possibility.”"
The Tigers have been willing to push their top prospects to the majors far too quickly in recent years. Back when the team was terrible, players that weren’t ready were routinely filling key roles on the big club. Since 2006, when Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya surprised everyone by making the club, the Tigers have gone back to that well with Porcello and Ryan Perry in 2009, and have also rushed top youngsters Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller to the show ahead of their time. Just last season, lefty Andy Oliver made five ill-advised starts for the Tigers, with little success.
Turner is the top rated prospect in Detroit’s thin minor league system and he wowed team officials last spring during camp. His efforts in his first professional season lead you to think that the hype is not unfounded. If he can avoid injuries, Turner could be an ace level starter for the Tigers in a matter of a couple of seasons.
But will the Tigers wait on him? The lineup is built to win this year. Magglio Ordonez is on a one-year deal and Victor Martinez has years of catching that have taken a toll on his body. With Leyland on the final year of his contract, will he be willing to go north with a club that doesn’t include Turner if Turner turns heads again? We all learned in 2009 the importance one game can make in the standings. What if Turner is clearly better during Spring Training than Armando Galarraga, or Oliver, or even Phil Coke?
I hope they don’t rush the kid. I hope the allow him the necessary time to develop as a pitcher, but knowing what I know about Turner, and about Leyland’s history with young arms, I don’t think the odds are as long as Leyland has made them out to be.