For the Miami Marlins, 2013 will be a season of limited success, at least in the traditional meaning of the word. The Marlins are certain to lose 90 to 100 games next season on the basis of one of the worst rosters in baseball. But success should have a different definition for these Marlins, and part of that definition should be based on the development of certain players on the team. A number of current Marlins on the roster are filler players with little hope of real development. Guys like Donovan Solano or A.J. Ramos are either too old or have too little impact on the game to significantly improve and become key cogs for the Marlins in the years to come. And while Giancarlo Stanton and Logan Morrison may still make talent leaps soon, their future with Miami is limited to one or two years at best thanks to the team's penny-pinching ways.
But there is a select group of Marlins players who may still make a leap in talent and are locked up with the Marlins for a long time. With Jose Fernandez and Christian Yelich on their way likely next season, the Marlins will need a number of players to form the core around those two future stars. The Marlins have five or six young players who could help form that core that could assist the two stars into building a competitive Marlins club in a few years. Out of those six Marlins, the Fish really need three players to step up and become regular, talented contributors in order for the team to begin competing in the years to come.
One of those six players was the prominent pickup in the midseason trade with the Detroit Tigers that sent Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante to the World Series competitors. Jacob Turner was a former top prospect for the Tigers, and even heading into the 2012 season, he was still highly considered among prospect mavens. But he had a struggle of a year in Triple-A between the Tigers' and Marlins' organizations, posting a combined 2.80 ERA but a 3.80 FIP and worse numbers when you correct for home run suppression. His stock fell, and it fell just enough to convince the Tigers to go a separate way in an attempt to acquire the best available starting pitcher in the midseason trade deadline market.
Why is Turner a Key to Success?
Turner brings two things on his resume in 2013: his pedigree and his 2012 work for the Marlins. Before this season, Turner was ranked 26th, 21st, and 22nd among Baseball-America's top prospects from 2010 to 2012 respectively. This is in part because he was highly touted, as he was drafted ninth overall in 2009. He was known as a player who had solid projectability but more importantly was a "safe" prospect, as sure-fire a player as they came considering he was drafted as a high school pitcher.
In the minors, Turner delivered, posting a composite 3.12 ERA in 358 innings spread out between four levels, so he is not in the same boat as another former Tigers pitching prospect acquired by the Marlins, Andrew Miller, once was. Unlike Miller, who struggled in many of his minor league stops and was constantly promoted and demoted by the Tigers, Turner was given a more reasonable development timetable. Also unlike Miller, he succeeded at every level up until last season, proving that he remained a capable pitcher despite the typical Tigers accelerated timeframe.
While he struggled in the minors in 2012 and had his bumps in brief major league stints with the Tigers, it seemed Turner put a lot more together in his 42 2/3 innings as a Marlin. His success in 2012, complete with a return of his disappearing strikeouts, had to be encouraging for a Marlins team that was acquiring a prospect clearly trending downwards rather than upwards in the prospect ranks. Turner whiffed 17.1 percent of batters faced last season with the Fish, and he induced a nifty 9.7 percent swinging strike rate that gave some reason to believe that he could strike out major league hitters. With those fears somewhat allayed, Turner is now being looked at as the team's second starter behind veteran Ricky Nolasco.
The problem with Turner being a key part of the 2013 season and the future beyond is that, no matter how you look at his improvement in 42-plus innings with the Fish, his stock was trending down, and with good reason. He whiffed just 15.0 percent of batters faced in Triple-A in 2012, and this came after a season in which his strikeouts fell in the move to Double-A.
These problems, along with concordant reports that his fastball velocity was falling, caused Turner's ceiling to fall, even as his floor remained fairly high. Before 2012, former Baseball Prospectus prospect maven Kevin Goldstein said that Turner could "[with] just some small refinement to his game, there are no reasons that Turner can't be a star-level starter." This season, new Baseball Prospectus prospect maven Jason Parks lumped Turner with Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez as "potential third or fourth starters that should eat innings." The floor remains fairly high, as Turner has shown that he can at least handle the majors, but what once was an ace-level projection with velocity "touching 98 mph" in 2010 became a pitcher with good command and a fastball that "touches 95 mph" before last year and further developed into a guy who averaged just 92 mph on their fastball in the majors in 2012.
Turner's biggest problem is that, while his pedigree was present, his stock fell enough that his once-ace projection is now at best that of a second or third starter.
As with all of these pieces, the optimistic projection will be mentioned in a separate post. But as of right now,how likely is it that Turner becomes one of the three names that forms a nice core around the Marlins' top prospects of the future? Of the six players, Turner is the most likely to become a regular contributor whom the Marlins hold for multiple seasons. The reason for this is once again his relatively high floor and his most recent success in the big leagues. While Turner may never develop a high strikeout rate, he has proven that he can get big league hitters out with some consistency. Given his supposed good control, he is a prototypical safe bet pitching prospect.
Because of this, I do believe Turner will be one of those three players whom the Marlins will feature in the years to come as a supporting player in the next competitive team. He has six seasons of team control remaining and may still have enough tools to guarantee himself a rotation spot for years to come.