Barring any setbacks in his development, or a rough time when he is finally called up to the majors, Trea Turner seems destined to one day take over at short for the Washington Nationals now that Ian Desmond has (sort of) moved on from the organization that drafted and developed him.
The question, of course, is when that day will arrive. Is it going to be Opening Day? Some day early in June, once the Nationals are guaranteed another year of team control of the 22-year-old infielder?
"Trea [Turner] showed us since we acquired him and really since we had interest in him in the draft that he's a quality player, that he was a fast-track type of player when he was in the draft and we feel that he's come a long way and is going to be a really good player for us," Mike Rizzo told reporters this winter when the Nats' GM was asked who will start at short at the start in 2016.
For months now (since before Turner was finally called up in August), there has been an ongoing debate about just when the future will arrive for the Nationals' shortstop of the future? Rizzo has consistently said that Turner, Danny Espinosa and Stephen Drew will report to Spring Training and settle things themselves with their play on the field and at the plate.
"We love competition. Trea’s gonna come to spring training with the rest of the big leaguers and compete for a job at shortstop, and we love the depth that we’ve created there," Rizzo explained, as quoted by Washington Post writer James Wagner, earlier this winter.
"His talent level is extremely high, and we’ve got extremely high hopes for him, and we’re gonna develop him the way that he should be developed."
Rizzo addressed the position battle at short again in an MLB Network Radio interview yesterday and reiterated his stance that the answer will come from the way the combatants play this Spring.
"I think it's a position we're going to have some competition," he told MLB Network Radio hosts Jim Bowden and Craig Mish.
"We know [Danny Espinosa] is a plus-plus defender. He's got a great arm, great range, he's got a good set of hands. His natural position is shortstop. We had seen him play shortstop many, many times both at Long Beach State and here in the big leagues. So we feel defensively, [Espinosa] is as good as anybody we've got, maybe as good as anybody in the league defensively.
"We've got a proven shortstop in Stephen Drew. We've got an unproven, high ability-level prospect in Trea Turner and we feel that there's going to be good competition and see what shakes out. We're going to do what's best for the ballclub, obviously and the thing that helps us win both now and in the long run. So it's going to be interesting to see how that plays out and we're looking forward to being extremely competitive there and in several other spots."
Turner, who reported to Spring Training with the Nationals for the first time this week, told Washington Post writer Chelsea Janes on Thursday that he's going to put in the work and wait to see how things play out.
"I'm just going to play," Turner said. "Everybody's just going to play. Whoever wins it, whoever's there, I think we'll have a pretty good team this year."
Is there a chance that anyone else will insert themselves into the discussion? Could the Nats potentially add a fourth shortstop to the competition? Rizzo was asked if there was any possibility that they might bring Desmond back on a "pillow contract" since the veteran infielder is still unsigned as Spring Training is getting underway?
"We haven't reached out with [Desmond's] people in a long time and he's certainly hasn't been somebody we've been planning around," Rizzo explained.
"As you can see we've made plans to be without Desi. You never say never, but, we haven't been in contact with his people in a long time."