Prospect of the Day: Jacob Turner, RHP, Detroit Tigers
The Detroit Tigers will promote top prospect Jacob Turner to the major leagues and start him against the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday. Turner was a candidate for a rotation spot in spring training until being sidelined with arm problems. He's back in action and performing well enough for the Tigers to give him a trial. Let's take a look.
Turner was considered one of the top high school pitchers in the 2009 draft, probably the best one overall, during his career at Westminster Christian Academy in St. Louis, Missouri. He also had large bonus demands, Scott Boras as his "advisor," and a firm commitment to the University of North Carolina, factors that dropped him to ninth-overall in the draft that spring. The Tigers gave him a major league contract that included a $4,700,000 bonus, at that time a record for a high school pitcher.
He made his debut in the Low-A Midwest League in 2010, posting 3.67 ERA with a 51/9 K/BB in 54 innings. Promoted to High-A Florida State League at mid-season, he was quite effective against older competition with a 2.93 ERA and a 51/14 K/BB in 61 innings. Moved up to Double-A Erie for 2011, he posted a 3.48 ERA with a 90/32 K/BB in 114 innings with 102 hits allowed. He made a start for the Tigers in July, went back down to the minors, made three starts in Triple-A, then finished with two September starts in the majors. He got hit hard in the show (8.53 ERA, 8/4 K/BB and 17 hits in 13 innings) but the Tigers were pleased with his progress and projected him as a likely member of the rotation for 2012.
That didn't happen. Turner was slowed this spring by shoulder tendinitis and a "dead arm" that cost him his usual crisp stuff. The Tigers worked him back into action with four starts for High-A Lakeland, which went well (1.66 ERA, 17/7 K/BB in 22 innings). Moved back up to Toledo in early May, he's gone 2-1, 3.43 with a 27/19 K/BB and a 1.79 GO/AO in 42 innings with 34 hits allowed. There is a statistical caution-light here with a mediocre K/BB ratio and a fairly low strikeout level, but scouting reports are positive and the Tigers think he's ready.
Turner is a 6-5, 210 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born May 21, 1991. Turner can hit 95 MPH but usually works at 90-93, using a two-seamer to generate sinking action and ground balls rather than pure velocity. He mixes in a curveball and changeup, both rated highly-positively by scouts, and he's added a cutter this spring. With a four-pitch arsenal and a good feel for his craft, he has the upside of a number two starter. His velocity has returned to normal over the last six weeks and the Tigers are pleased with the progress of his secondary pitches.
As stated above, there are some caution flags in the component ratios, although the fact that he gets grounders and suppresses home runs (just two this year) mitigates that to some extent. At this point, the main thing Turner needs is to stay healthy. This spring's bout of tendinitis isn't the first time that he's had shoulder issues, and his elbow has had stiff periods as well. It will be very interesting to see how the Tigers manage his workload.