Prospect Trea Turner is undoubtedly the Washington Nationals’ shortstop of the future. But with plenty of middle infield depth, the team has no need to rush him in 2016.
When the Washington Nationals acquired prospect Trea Turner from the San Diego Padres last offseason, it quickly became clear that the young infielder would be the Nationals’ shortstop of the future. Ian Desmond was heading into his final season with the team and was likely to depart via free agency this winter, and negotiations with the franchise shortstop had seemingly come to a close.
A year later, that picture hasn’t changed. Turner had a solid season in the Nationals’ minor league system and ended 2015 with the big league club. Desmond, who had a subpar year with the Nationals in 2015, will likely sign with a different club this offseason.
There’s little doubt that Turner is the Nationals’ shortstop of the future, and many would like to see the 22-year-old start the 2016 season with the big league club. But with the Nationals’ newly acquired depth in the middle of the infield, there’s no need for the team to rush him in 2016 — at least not for Opening Day.
Turner, whom the Padres drafted in the first round (13th overall) of the 2014 draft, has had relatively little minor league experience in his career. Prior to 2015, Turner had never played above A-level ball with San Diego. He began the 2015 season with the Padres’ Double-A affiliate, before joining Double-A Harrisburg midway through the season once his trade to Washington finally became official.
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After Turner dominated in his first 10 games with the Senators, the Nationals promoted the young shortstop to Triple-A Syracuse — where he played 48 games in 2015. Not long after, Turner earned his first big league call-up. He played 27 games with the Nationals in 2015, posting a .225/.295/.325 line.
While Turner saw success at every level he played last season, the relatively short time he spent honing his skills in the minors could be an issue if the team plans to put him on the Opening Day roster.
Especially concerning for Turner is his defense, which deteriorated slightly over the course of 2015. After making just four errors in 50 games at shortstop in 2014 and six errors in 57 games in the Padres organization in 2015, Turner made 15 errors in 54 minor league games at shortstop with the Nationals later in the season.
While offensive output is always important, defense is crucial at a position like shortstop. Defense has never been a major concern for Turner, but it’s a skill that can be improved with more experience at the minor league level.
Several years ago, calling up players who may not have been ready for the game’s highest level was standard practice for the Nationals. After all, when a team is losing 100 games in a season regardless, there’s no harm in letting players learn on the fly in the majors. But that’s not the case for the Nationals in 2016, and if Turner isn’t 100 percent ready to produce in the big leagues, the team shouldn’t rush him.
Earlier this offseason, it seemed inevitable that Turner would start the 2016 season with the Nationals. The team had traded Yunel Escobar to the Angels, leaving virtually no depth in the middle of the infield for the Nationals and all but guaranteeing Turner the starting job at shortstop on Opening Day.
But general manager Mike Rizzo and the Nationals weren’t satisfied and signed Daniel Murphy to be the presumptive everyday second baseman. With Murphy at second, Espinosa will likely start the season at shortstop — his native position. The Nationals also signed infielder Stephen Drew last night, adding a backup who can play both second base and shortstop.
Murphy, Espinosa and Drew are all capable of manning the middle of the infield for the Nationals until Turner is ready.
Of course, Turner could easily put on a show during Spring Training and earn the starting job at shortstop starting on Opening Day. But the more likely scenario is that Turner will need a couple of months in the minors to be fully ready to produce in the big leagues. If that’s the case, the worst mistake the Nationals could make would be to give him the Opening Day job and force him to learn on the fly. The second-worst mistake the team could make would be to put him on the Opening Day roster and let him rot on the bench.
Turner is undoubtedly the team’s shortstop of the future, and that future may very well start in 2016. But if the Nationals want him to continue develop into their shortstop of the future and one of the best shortstops in the game, they’ll have wait until he proves he’s ready.