Washington Nationals: Trea Turner finally makes shortstop his own

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WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 07: Trea Turner #7 of the Washington Nationals turns a double play in the eighth inning against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park on August 7, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 07: Trea Turner #7 of the Washington Nationals turns a double play in the eighth inning against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park on August 7, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images) /
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Trea Turner started 158 games at shortstop for the Washington Nationals in 2018, seemingly securing the position he was always meant to play for the team.

This season felt like a lost year in many ways for the Washington Nationals, but one area of development has been overlooked. Trea Turner finally played a full year at shortstop. Frankly, it’s been a long time coming for the 25-year-old.

When the Nationals acquired Turner as a prospect in 2015, Ian Desmond was firmly entrenched as the Nats shortstop, starting 155 games in his free agent walk year. Turner wasn’t a monster prospect in 2015, but his star was rising and Desmond made it easy for the Nationals to move on as he hit .233/.290/.384 with an 84 wRC+.

By the start of 2016, Turner was 9th on Baseball America’s Top-100 prospects list and despite the signing of Stephen Drew in the offseason, it was widely expected that Turner would take over at some point during the season.

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Instead, Danny Espinosa played a solid defensive shortstop for 152 starts. Though he came disappointingly close to duplicating Desmond’s putrid offensive line by hitting .209/.306/.378 with a 78 wRC+, the centerfield combo of Ben Revere and Michael Taylor were even worse. That had the Nats finding themselves asking Turner to learn centerfield in order to get his bat into the lineup.

The speedster finally took over shortstop in 2017 after Espinosa was traded to the Angels and the Nats sent three pitchers to the White Sox for Adam Eaton to fill the void in centerfield. Unfortunately, Turner broke his wrist in late June and his season was limited to 98 games.

Turner was able to start at shortstop in 158 games this season while appearing in all 162. His defensive metrics say he was good but not stellar there though, with only 2 Defensive Runs Saved and a 3.2 UZR. Essentially, he’s not likely to win a Gold Glove with those numbers, but he’s far from a liability.

His range factor at 4.0 RngR was good, and he made the plays he was supposed to with only 12 errors all year. His only negative score was the -2.7 he scored in Double Play Rating. Combine those with the -1.4 ARM rating he earned as a centerfielder in 2016 and we get an interesting defensive picture of Trea Turner. He’s a rangy, sure-handed shortstop with an arm that would probably play better at second base.

Before you freak out, that’s not to suggest Turner needs to move off shortstop, not now and maybe not ever. However, there is a future where the Nats could be better off moving Turner to the keystone.

Top prospect Carter Kieboom is still a bat-first shortstop, but there’s a chance he stays at short. If he does, Turner could eventually find his way to second, where he might be better suited anyway.

Kieboom’s defensive profile is that of a strong-armed quick-footed shortstop who – if he doesn’t hang at the position – is more likely to slide to third than over to second. The point is that there are many potential iterations of a Turner-Kieboom infield.

As before, Turner’s future position may have less to do with his own capabilities and more to do with the specific talents of those around him. He proved this year that he can play a competent defensive shortstop, and if he keeps slashing in the neighborhood of .271/.344/.416 with 105 wRC+, he’ll be a better all-around player than Washington’s had at the position since Desmond’s prime years.

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This situation isn’t as clear-cut, but Trea Turner may be stuck in positional limbo once again. Whether or not his future is at shortstop, he should continue to be a productive player, and for the Washington Nationals, all that matters is that today he’s finally their shortstop.

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