The Miami Marlins have decided to finally pull the trigger on bringing up prized pitching prospect Jacob Turner, as he will make the start for the first game of the Wednesday doubleheader against the Arizona Diamondbacks. This marks Turner's debut as a Marlin, though it will be his seventh major league start of his career.
Turner was the main piece coming back in the Detroit Tigers deal that sent Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante off to Detroit, so expectations on him are going to be high among the Marlins faithful. But Turner's put up mixed results this season after having two stellar years in the minors. With his performance in question but his status as an elite prospect still high, it is tough to tell what exactly the Fish will get from Turner and whether that will be good enough for him to stick around in the majors for the foreseeable future.
So with the uncertainty surrounding Turner, it is worth looking at the positives and negatives, the good and the bad of Jacob Turner, the newest Miami Marlins starter.
Good: Prospect Pedigree
There is a reason why Turner came at such a cost to the Marlins, and that is because he is a very good pitching prospect. Prior to the season, it was hard to find a source that was down on the 21 year-old tall right-hander. Turner's combination of decent fastball with plus curveball and at least average changeup had him ranked 22nd among all prospects by Baseball America and 15th by Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus.
When looking at all the prospect lists overall, Turner ranked 13th on the composite prospect rankings, ranking as high as sixth (on FanSided's prospect blog Seedlings to Stars) and as low as 33rd (on Project Prospect). Overall, Turner's work in 2010 and 2011, even in a notoriously accelerated Detroit organizational plan, impressed enough of the scouts to get him ranked highly among the best prospects in baseball.Bad: 2012 Season
The problem with looking at all of those lists is that they all occurred before a highly suspect 2012 season. Turner's performance in Triple-A, both with the Tigers and Marlins organizations, has been suspect all year. In the two levels, he has posted a 2.80 ERA, but that stands next to a fairly unimpressive 3.80 FIP. Most of Turner's passable FIP is due to suppression of home runs, and while he has posted good ground ball rates (53 percent with Triple-A Eerie this season), it is less likely he will be able to fool major league hitters to that extent. Turner showed as much in the three starts this season in which he was shelled. Turner's six major league starts over two seasons have garnered an 8.28 ERA and 6.94 FIP, and home runs were the culprit for much of the campaign.
Due to the struggles this season, Turner's ranking among prospects has universally dropped among all the reputable names. Kevin Goldstein dropped him to 35th in his midseason top 50 prospects list, while he missed other lists for reasons including excess major league work and poor performance. Though his pedigree remains fairly high, the ceiling for Turner's success may be beginning to fall; even as he was ranked as the best prospect traded at the deadline by Goldstein, he was still considered with a "ceiling of a No. 3 starter."
Good: His Floor
While that ceiling remains low (prospect mavens have it around a workhorse second or third starter), his floor has always been seen as high. Goldstein himself, in that same trade deadline article, mentioned that a third starter "might also be his floor," indicating that Turner's likelihood of success in the majors is very high, even if the success itself is not at a grand scale. Michael Schwartze over at Bullpen Banter had a recent video scouting report on Turner, and his view was very similar:
Turner has the ceiling of a number two starter but I think he’ll most likely be a good number three starter. He has a high floor as a back end of the rotation work horse.
In fact, a good reason why he remained at the top of most prospect lists without clearly dominating his levels was that, for a high school pitcher, Turner was fairly polished. With a low rate of potential failure, the Marlins may be able to accept his difficulties for now.
Bad: His Strikeouts
Turner's strikeout rates have never been impressive, but this season they are way down compared to previous years. In Double-A in 2011, he struck out 19.0 percent of batters faced, an acceptable amount, especially given his age relative to the league. But this season in Triple-A, Turner's strikeout rate is down to just 15.0 percent, the same rate that major league pitchers like Randy Wolf, Kyle Lohse, and Ricky Nolasco are putting up. Whiffing batters at that low a rate in the minors does not bode well for Turner's immediate major league prospects, though once again his age relative to league is a component in all of this. It is worth noting that Turner struck out just 12.4 percent of batters in his six major league starts as well.
Good: His Whiff Rate
While Turner's strikeouts have been down, at least his swinging strike rates bode well for the future. For his major league career, he has induced swings and misses on 8.3 percent of all of his pitches, and that rate has been similar in his Triple-A season this year. While that sort of rate of swings and misses is not stellar, it is not indicative of a pitcher who will only strike out 15 percent of hitters in the majors. Looking at pitchers with similar whiff rates, we determined that Turner's strikeout prospects were looking up.
Bad: His Command
While Turner has not had issues with control or issuing a large number of walks up until this season, command has seemed to be an issue this season. Jack Moore of FanGraphs looked at one of his major league starts and illustrated this point clearly.
Control was not the issue for Turner — 68% of his fastballs went for strikes. This is a perfect of illustration of what happens when control exists but command departs. Throwing a strike turns in to a cookie down the middle; trying to nibble turns into an obvious ball six inches off the corner. Turner has exhibited excellent command his entire minor league career, as partially shown by his ability to suppress home runs — his highest HR/9 in any minor league stint is 0.71 in 17 starts at Double-A in 2011.
Turner's command may be down this year, and that could cause him to be misplacing pitches and not putting them appropriately in the zone, leading to very hard hit balls in the strike zone. His location should be something to look at going into Wednesday's start.
Jacob Turner was listed as one of the reasons why you should still watch the Miami Marlins, and there is definitely reason to watch this week (if you can find a telecast for that first game, as FS Florida will not be broadcasting) as Turner debuts for the Marlins.