Dusty Baker and Mike Rizzo all but said that Washington Nationals' prospect Trea Turner would start the season in the minors in recent weeks, but the move wasn't made official until Monday afternoon, when the 22-year-old shortstop was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse. Baker told reporters, including MASNSports.com's Mark Zuckerman, that Turner took the news well.
"You know when you can play," Baker said. "And he had a good attitude about it."
Turner was 9 for 36 with a double, triple, home run and seven stolen bases in seven attempts in 22 games this Spring.
He played 48 games for the Nats' top affiliate last summer, putting up a .314/.353/.431 line, seven doubles, three triples and three home runs in 205 plate appearances, over which he stole 14 bases in 16 attempts, before getting called up to make his major league debut.
Prior to that, Turner had played ten games with Double-A Harrisburg following the completion of the three-team trade with the San Diego Padres and Tampa Bay Rays last June, which was delayed until a year after he signed under the since-changed rules regarding the trading of draft picks.
He posted a .359/.366/.513 line, four doubles, a triple and four steals in 41 PAs for the Senators.
Before he was traded, the 2014 first-round pick moved up quickly in the Padres' system, posting a .323/.406/.448 line, 16 doubles, two triples, five homers and 23 steals in 27 attempts over 69 games and 321 plate appearances at two levels of A-ball in his first pro season after signing with San Diego for a $2.9M bonus after he was taken 13th overall that June.
He made 254 trips to the plate at Double-A San Antonio early in 2015, putting up a .322/.385/.471 line with 13 doubles, three triples, five home runs and 11 steals before the trade was completed.
That's a total of 821 plate appearances over two minor league seasons with five different affiliates, 857 PAs and six teams if you count his nine-game stint in the Arizona Fall League (.400/.417/.400 in 36 PAs) and 901 total and seven teams counting his late-season run in D.C.
"He's got one full season of minor league baseball under his belt," Rizzo told ESPN.com's Buster Olney earlier this month. "He's a guy that could use some more at bats in the minor leagues."
"He's a guy that's not far away from the big leagues and a guy that we think that will impact the club when he gets here."
While stating clearly last Friday that no decision had been made, Dusty Baker was asked about his expectations for Turner and how the young infielder has progressed?
"Let's face it, he hasn't had many minor league at bats," Baker explained. "You're reluctant to rush a kid. Like Hank Aaron used to always say, he'd rather bring a kid up a month later than a month earlier, because most of these kids have never failed at anything in their entire life, so you'd rather bring them up or have them here killing it than you would start off with them and then they fail and then you've got to send them down and rebuild them back up."
"The world is his, he just has a few things he just has to -- I mean, like, very few young shortstops -- you've got to look it up -- how many have had as few at bats and games than he had in the history of the game?"
So Turner goes to Triple-A and Danny Espinosa starts the season at short... though that's not officially official yet.
Will the Nationals wait until June to bring Turner back, once they guarantee another year of team control in the future?
What if Espinosa struggles? What if he actually hits and plays the stellar defense the Nationals are expecting? Does Turner spend the year at Triple-A? Will they bring him up just to come off the bench? Unlikely.
Baker has worked with Espinosa this Spring and talked about the switch-hitting infielder's approach at the plate last week.
"The main thing is the approach and just trying to get Danny to swing at strikes," he explained.
"Very few guys can hit bad balls and make contact. It's a matter of concentration, relaxation and discipline. You want relaxation so you when you get your pitch and concentrate until the point where you don't miss that."
While the Nationals work with Espinosa to get him going at the plate, Baker said last week that he had no concerns about the 28-year-old shortstop in the field.
"I think he relishes the challenge of playing shortstop. He has plenty of arm, and he's sure-handed, so I don't think defense is going to be a problem for him at all."
The veteran of twenty years on the bench, after his playing career, talked recently about short being a defense-first position in the not-too-distant past.
"Shortstop gets more balls than anybody on the field," Baker said. "It used to be a defensive position until Cal Ripken, Alex Rodriguez and certain guys turned it into -- and Derek Jeter -- but they were also very good defensive shortstops, per se, but then they kind of [kept] growing and outgrew the position. It's a lot of work."
"We know what we've got defensively with Danny," Mike Rizzo told MLB Network Radio hosts Jim Bowden and Jim Duquette earlier this month.
"He's a plus, plus defender with a rocket of an arm. He's got good feet, good range, and he's got power potential."
And now Espinosa, drafted as a shortstop in the 3rd Round of the '08 Draft, is finally getting a chance to play short on a regular basis in the majors.