Recently acquired pitching prospect Jacob Turner is set to make his Miami Marlins debut in the first game of Wednesday's doubleheader versus the Arizona Diamondbacks. Turner has ostensibly been called up to prevent another starter from having to pitch on short rest, but Manager Ozzie Guillen left the door open for the highly touted right-hander to stay with the team, provided the start goes well. Despite his pedigree, fans should temper expectations for Turner.
Originally drafted out of high school with the ninth selection in the 2009 draft, Turner has been a prized prospect from the beginning of his professional career. Baseball America has consistently rated him among the top twenty-five prospects in baseball for the last three years. On paper, Turner is an ideal pitching prospect. He possesses a tall and lean 6-foot-5, 210 lbs. frame that leaves room for growth and possibly a couple extra miles on his fastball. Turner's armory of pitches is nothing to scoff at, however. He features a low-90s sinking fastball that he locates well, a swing-and-miss curveball that scouts love, an effective mid-80s change-up, and a recently added cutter that has potential.
Turner began his career in 2010 pitching in the low Class-A Midwest League. In 54 innings pitched, Turner impressed with a 3.67 ERA, striking out 51 and walking 9. He earned a mid-season promotion to the Florida State League, where he pitched an additional 61 innings, putting up a 2.93 ERA with 14 walks and 51 strikeouts. Turner's development in 2011 began smoothly in Double-A, with a 3.48 ERA, 32 walks, and 90 strikeouts in 113 innings pitched, and continued with three excellent starts in Triple-A.
Turner's otherwise impeccable record collided headfirst with harsh reality when the Detroit Tigers saw fit to test him out in the majors. In 25 combined innings pitched over the last year, Turner has posted an 8.28 ERA with 11 walks and 15 strikeouts. His strikeout and walk numbers in Triple-A this year have been similarly uninspiring. Turner has a solid career 2.5 BB/9 and 7.2 K/9 in the minors, but since joining New Orleans in July he has allowed 12 walks and struck out only 16 batters in 27.1 innings pitched. These disappointing results have negatively affected Turner's stock. Consequently, Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projection system expects Turner to have a rather poor 4.88 ERA in the majors for the rest of the season.
Turner suffered from tendinitis in his right shoulder during Spring Training, which caused his fastball velocity to drop and prompted a month long rehabilitation assignment in high Class-A. Recent scouting reports suggest that his velocity has returned to normal, but the strikeout numbers that Turner is accustomed to putting up have yet to come back. Michael Jong dispelled some of these concerns in his article on Turner, noting that his swinging strike rate has been more than adequate.
ZiPS is pessimistic about Turner's current chances of success, but that shouldn't be a cause for alarm. Turner simply isn't likely to perform well this year, even with his strong repertoire of pitches and a solid minor league track record. He is still developing as a pitcher and has only just begun to face advanced competition. Most analysts believe Turner will eventually become a second or third starter in a good rotation.
Fan expectations for young prospects entering the majors can often stretch beyond reason. Players who dominate the competition from the outset are deviations from the norm, not the standard by which all prospects should be judged. Many more successful careers have begun with bad outings and extreme growing pains. At 21 years old, Zack Greinke pitched his first full season in the majors and finished with a 5.80 ERA. Today, Greinke has a career 3.84 ERA and ranks among the very best pitchers in baseball. Having just turned 21 in May, Turner is facing the same circumstances.
Here are some other examples of successful pitchers who had less than glorious debut seasons:
Simply treading water would be a good outcome for Turner right now, considering that he would be an age appropriate prospect for high Class-A Jupiter. Instead, he is facing far more advanced hitters in Triple-A and the majors. The Miami Marlins can expect a productive career from Jacob Turner down the line, but he isn't likely to be the short-term rotation fix the team is seeking.