Could the Washington Nationals turn to Trea Turner in center field?
By Pablo Roa
Washington Nationals prospect Trea Turner started his first career game in center field last night, making many wonder if he could be the answer to the team’s problems at that position.
The Washington Nationals have been — with the exception of last week — one of the best teams in baseball this season. When the offense is hot, it’s as good as any in the game. The bullpen has also been solid, and the pitching staff has been lights out for most of the season.
The team isn’t perfect; the Nationals have a few big weaknesses, and they were all on full display during their seven-game losing streak last week. But those weaknesses aside, the Nationals have all the talent and pieces necessary to compete for a World Series trophy in October — with one possible exception.
“We feel that offensively he’s Major League ready,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “…he’s a guy that we would like to see here in the big leagues.”
There’s one weakness that has hampered the team all season long, and if things don’t change, it could very well derail their postseason aspirations in 2016. The problem, as you might have guessed, is the leadoff spot, which is currently anchored by center fielders Ben Revere and Michael A. Taylor.
Prior to last night’s game against the Mets, the Nationals were batting .205 from the leadoff spot with a .251 on-base percentage. Both of those numbers are last in all of baseball. By a lot.
Which makes yesterday’s news that Trea Turner would be starting in center field for Triple-A Syracuse intriguing, to say the least.
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Turner, of course, is not a center field prospect. He’s a shortstop prospect who can also play second base. But with the sudden emergence of Danny Espinosa — who is batting .339 with five home runs and 11 RBIs over his last 18 games — there simply isn’t room for Turner in the infield or in the lineup.
But there might be a gapping hole in center field and in the leadoff spot.
As mentioned earlier, the Taylor-Revere duo has been abysmal in the leadoff spot. Turner, on the other hand, has been tearing it up at the plate this season. The 22-year-old is batting .304 with a .377 on-base percentage and 22 stolen bases in 71 games with the Chiefs. Everything about those numbers screams “leadoff hitter.”
Then there’s the fact that general manager Mike Rizzo wants Turner in the big leagues, and playing him in center field gives Rizzo a way to work around the infield logjam and get him in the big league lineup.
"“We feel that offensively he’s Major League ready,” Rizzo said. “Danny’s playing extremely well at shortstop up here. We’ve got a full roster of really qualified quality players at the big league level, but he’s a guy that we would like to see here in the big leagues.” (Alex Putterman, MLB.com)"
Now, one does not become a center fielder overnight. And if the Nationals are serious about turning Turner into a center fielder, it’ll likely take him a lot of practice in the minors before the team can consider giving him the everyday job. Nevertheless, center field could be Turner’s quickest and most direct route to the majors.
Of course, things can change in a heartbeat. And just like Espinosa suddenly became a lock at shortstop and a crucial part of the offense, Revere or Taylor could do the same in centerfield and the leadoff spot. In fact, as I wrote this post, Revere went 4-for-5 with three runs scored and three stolen bases in last night’s win over the Mets. Go figure.
But by playing Turner in center field, the Nationals are giving themselves a third, very tempting option. One that would not only address the problem in the leadoff spot, but would also allow the team to have both Turner and Espinosa in the same lineup.
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It’s an option that the Nationals can chose to take advantage of, or one they can simply hold onto for whenever it becomes necessary. Either way, it’s an intriguing strategy by the team and one that we’ll definitely keep an eye on over the next several weeks.