Tigers not afraid to accelerate Turner
Right-hander named No. 15 prospect in baseball by MLB.com
DETROIT -- The future is quickly getting closer to the present for Tigers prospect Jacob Turner.
How close? With Armando Galarraga off to Arizona, Detroit's most highly regarded young pitcher isn't just an investment for 2012 and beyond. He factored into the team's planning for '11.
A year ago, Turner was the kid in camp, the teenager whose Major League contract brought him into Spring Training with the big club for a chance to learn from the big league coaches before embarking on his first pro season. The way he pitched in his limited Spring Training action showed the kind of stuff that could get big leagues hitters out now.
Last summer was a learning experience for Turner at Class A -- both at West Michigan and Lakeland. Now, the right-hander is readying to go back to Spring Training, but he won't be there simply to learn. He'll be trying to impress.
Turner won't have the chance to pull off what Rick Porcello did and make the big leagues to open his second pro season, barring some catastrophes in the Tigers' rotation. But with a strong spring, he has a chance to put himself into the picture for this summer. And to some, he has the chance to match what Porcello did.
The Tigers haven't gone through an entire season without needing extra starters in a long, long time. With Galarraga gone, Detroit's top pitching prospects -- Turner, Andy Oliver and Charlie Furbush -- are now those extra starters.
Turner is the youngest of the three, but he's also regarded as the most talented. He's the one who consistently shows up on top prospect lists.
In the case of this year's MLB.com Top 50 list, Turner comes in at No. 15. He's the only Tigers product on the list, and he made a huge jump up the list from his spot at No. 42 on last year's list.
The Tigers, far from toning down the rave reviews, don't mind the publicity for Turner.
"He was our No. 1 Draft choice a couple years ago," general manager Dave Dombrowski said at TigerFest last weekend. "He's outstanding. He's a guy that really is good. He is a very consistent mid-90s [fastball] guy. He's an advanced youngster, as far as his breaking ball, changeup and ability to pitch, and has very good control and command."
Learning how to use those pitches against professional hitters was Turner's challenge last year. The results were what one would expect for a kid in his first pro season: He had his struggles, but within those were signs of promise.
Turner's 6-5 record between the Whitecaps and Flying Tigers came in spite of a 3.28 ERA. He averaged 1.8 walks and eight strikeouts per nine innings while scattering 106 hits over 115 1/3 innings overall. Aside from walks, his numbers improved with his midseason jump to Lakeland.
He could go back to Lakeland to start the year, something the Tigers like to do with young pitchers to keep them out of the cold up north in April. It reduces the risk of tweaking a muscle here and there, and it gives them a better chance at staying on turn in the rotation with less risk of a rainout or snowout.
But the Tigers aren't ruling out the idea of putting Turner on a fast track.
"Those are the type guys that can suddenly zoom through your organization," Dombrowski said. "We [think to] a couple years ago, with Rick Porcello at A ball. He came in [the next year] and won 14 games [in Detroit]. You'll hear the same discussions and maybe even more so about Turner, because Turner's more advanced with his secondary pitches, whereas Porcello had that great sinker. Turner has the better breaking ball and changeup at that [stage].
"When you're young and talented, you never can tell when you're going to put it all together."
In the bigger picture, the Tigers are planning on Turner and their other young starters being ready sooner rather than later. While many wondered this offseason if the Tigers would look at a frontline starter to put alongside Justin Verlander, it was never a serious consideration in the Tigers' front offices.
The plan is to complement the team's young trio of starters, eventually, with Turner and Oliver.
"We never felt we were going to go out and sign a starting pitcher to a big, long-term contract," Dombrowski said. "And really, the reason behind it is that we not only feel comfortable with Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello and Phil Coke, but right behind them, the strength of our organization is our starting pitching. And it's young -- and it's good."