There have been impressive rookies this year in both leagues, one might win the National League MVP, but none of have been more exciting than Trea Turner of the Nationals. This shortstop-turned center fielder and second baseman was moved to keep Danny Espinosa in the lineup and because the Nats wanted him in the big leagues. It’s paid dividends for Washington so far.
Turner, 23, was taken in the 2014 first round by the Padres and was later included as a player to be named later less than a year after being plucked from NC State. Because of the rule that players can’t be traded a year within being drafted, he had to stay with San Diego for a couple more months. The trade and leak helped to officially abolish that rule, which was unnecessary to begin with. The Nationals acquired him and right-hander Joe Ross in the same trade by just giving up minor leaguer Travis Ott and Steven Souza. Ott hasn’t made the big leagues and Souza is struggling to make contact at an acceptable rate with Tampa Bay.
Top prospect Turner was called up late in August during the 2015 season, but only had 44 plate appearances and struggled at the plate. In 2016, he was called up again, during June, and never looked back. He has 268 plate appearances while slashing .355/.377/.590 with 11 homers, 155 wRC+, 27 stolen bases and a 3.4 FanGraphs WAR (fWAR). He currently ranks second behind Corey Seager in rookie fWAR including pitchers and is ahead of Wilson Ramos, Espinosa, and Jayson Werth in the metric on his own team. He’s even just 0.2 fWAR away from Bryce Harper‘s total for 2016. He’s been incredible this season and Andrew Simon of MLB.com summed it up perfectly:
— Andrew Simon (@AndrewSimonMLB) September 17, 2016
Part of Turner’s success has been his effective baserunning as a rookie. He has a 3.9 FanGraphs baserunning metric to go along with the 27 stolen bases and has only hit into one double play. He has 80 speed and makes it tough to defend on the base-paths. Watch him steal home quite easily here during a rundown:
His most impressive tool so far, though, has been his bat. Turner hit two more homers on Saturday and has been a lightning bolt in the leadoff spot for the Nationals as they are on their way to a National League East Division title. You can see those two bombs here. Since 2000, Turner is having the seventh best hitting season as a rookie per wRC+ behind Mike Trout, Jose Abreu , Yasiel Puig, Luke Scott, Ryan Braun and Albert Pujols. That’s good company to be in and could mean even bigger things for Turner. Per Baseball Savant, he isn’t just getting lucky, he is in the top 24% of hitters in average exit velocity at 90.7 when 88.5 MPH is considered league average.
Even though he has the least amount of plate appearances out of the four, he still hitting at an elite level.
Usually it takes at least a full season to learn a new position, but Turner picked up quick in center. Advanced defensive metrics like Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) don’t particular like him (negative 8.5 UZR/150 innings), but defensive runs saved (DRS) has him at positive one. With more experience he’ll likely be at an average defensive center fielder and he already has a good arm as shown here:
Turner has played 222 innings at second as well as the 288 in center, which makes him even more valuable. He was originally drafted as a shortstop and played there in the minors, but hasn’t seen much time there with the big league club. Turner is acting like the Kris Bryant of the Nationals by playing multiple positions adequately, all while destroying the baseball at the plate. Turner still needs to improve his 3 percent walk rate, but he’s showing major tools regardless of the lack of discipline. The Nats might’ve found their fourth or fifth franchise player to go along with Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer and Daniel Murphy.
Look forward to watching him in October.