One of the most unique experiences in minor league baseball is the opportunity for prospects to take part in the Australian Baseball League during the winter months. What makes this experience memorable is it presents a chance for the player to work with different coaches and teammates, all the while taking in a different culture and making memories that will last a lifetime.
Experiencing this opportunity this past offseason, left-handed pitching prospect Colton Turner reported to the Canberra Cavalry to record some extra innings that were lost from his career rehabbing from Tommy John surgery two years ago.
Assigning Turner to the ABL made complete sense as the lefty struggled with his command during the 2015 season with the Lansing Lugnuts. Finishing his season with a 1.58 WHIP wasn’t ideal for the promising prospect. But instead of believing that Turner had hit his ceiling in professional baseball, the Toronto Blue Jays wanted the Texas native to log additional innings against higher level competition.
“It was an unbelievable experience in Canberra,” stated Turner. “It was my first time over there. It was great to see that country, tour around, and play baseball. It was really cool to see what that experience had to offer. It was a really good experience overall.”
Dealing with a little adversity in his 32 innings with Canberra, Turner walked 21 batters and recorded a 1.84 WHIP. While those numbers weren’t exactly where the lefty wanted them to be. The opportunity gave the young hurler a taste of higher-end talent and he’s been able to translate that experience back to affiliated baseball well.
“There wasn’t much of a difference pitching in Australia compared to North America,” explained Turner. “The biggest difference was facing better completion as the majority of the hitters were high-A, or double-A talent wise. We also faced some former big leaguers and guys who played Triple-A ball. It was a great experience competing against that kind of talent and I would definitely go back to Australia if the opportunity is presented to me again.”
Working with a lot of guys who have experienced higher levels of professional baseball really helped Turner’s confidence as he’s been lights out during the first two months of the season. Allowing just two earned runs since April is a strong indicator that the 25-year-old pitcher has figured out his game.
Factor that in with his impressive .210 opponent batting average, 1.06 WHIP, and 12.7 K/9 ratio and it would appear that Turner is poised to jump through the Blue Jays’ system quickly.
Believing that’s a realistic possibility this season, Lansing Lugnuts’ pitching coach Jeff Ware discusses the advantages that assigning Turner to the ABL did for him in terms of getting healthy again for a bigger opportunity in the future.
“I think getting more innings under his belt really helped Colton,” stated Ware. “After coming off Tommy John and not pitching for a year you begin to lose the feel of things. Basically you have to retrain your body all over again. Last year was his first year back and then he got to go to Australia to get more innings. I think the experience has helped him understand the game a little bit better. Colton is older as he’s in his mid-20s now. But he’s a guy that could jump through our system quickly.”
Focused on better command with his fastball this season, Turner is continuously trying to improve in this area and the results are showing on game days. Locating the fastball on both sides of the plate and increasing its velocity a little has helped Turner get ahead early and stay ahead all season.
“I really want to command the fastball this year,” said Turner. “I want to get in and get out quickly. I want to have fast innings. Last year I struggled a bit with my command and I don’t want that to be an issue this year.”
Helping to nail that concept home, Turner has had the opportunity to speak with fellow Texan pitchers Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens recently. The retired major leaguers gave the up-and-coming lefty the best advice he has received so far in his career.
“They said command the fastball,” stated Turner. “They said once you let go of the ball it’s out of your control. They said if you keep the fastball around the zone you’ll have success and they’re right. If you go out there and get a strike on your first pitch and continue to pound the zone you’ll have success.”
There’s many areas to focus on when looking at Turner’s turnaround. It can be contributed to his experience against better hitters, or it could be the advice he’s received from former greats of the game.
But whatever it is one thing is certain, Toronto Blue Jays fans are thrilled to see Colton Turner improving in the right areas in their minor league system.