So is Trea Turner excited about the opportunity to move back to short after playing center field upon being called up to the majors last season?
“Heck yeah,” the Washington Nationals’ 23-year-old infielder told reporters on Friday afternoon when he spoke about decision to acquire center fielder Adam Eaton this winter, which allowed Turner to move to the position he played in college and the minor leagues.
“I’m excited to go back and prove that I can play there at a high level and try to be consistent and make as many plays as I can for our team,” Turner said.
“It’s a very demanding position and a lot of responsibility and I’m excited to take it on and see what I can do.”
“He showed flashes of it when he played in the big leagues,” GM Mike Rizzo said this winter when asked if he was confident in Turner’s ability to play short in the majors.
“We think he’s going to be a rangy shortstop. He’s got good hands, he’s got good feet.
“He’s got range, he’s got plenty of arm to play short and I think he’s going to be a good defensive shortstop with good offense.”
Turner continued to work at short (and second base) last season while also adjusting to playing the outfield for the first time after a brief stint in center in the minors before he was called up for good in July.
“Trea, if you saw our pregame, he’d always come in and take ground balls at shortstop, always,” Bench Coach Chris Speier told reporters in December.
“I know that’s where he wants to be and so we’ll have to see how this whole thing plays out.”
Dusty Baker expressed confidence in Turner’s ability to move back to short when he spoke to reporters on Friday, and Baker noted that the infielder will have plenty of help as he returns to his natural position when asked if he expected Turner would experience any growing pains this season.
“We have Chris Speier here that’s outstanding,” Baker said.
“[Speier] was a young shortstop, shoot, he was out of Double-A I think when he came up with the Giants and Willie Mays and so he’s one of the best. He’s one of the best that I had in Cincinnati, he did the same with a young shortstop in Cincinnati.
“He knows what the workload should be, he knows what it’s like to play every day, but growing pains, the challenges will be batting leadoff and playing shortstop, because you’re doing a whole bunch of work offensively and you’re doing a whole bunch of work defensively, because you get most of the plays at shortstop.
“He’s in a situation where he’s — I don’t know if they use spark plugs any more — but he’s a spark plug on offense and he’s the brakes on defense. So that’s like doing double work, but I think he’s looking forward to it.”
“This kid is not phased by too much,” Baker added after watching the 2014 1st Round pick put up a .342/.370/.567 line with 14 doubles, eight triples, 13 home runs and 33 stolen bases in 73 games and 324 plate appearances in a 3.3 fWAR campaign in 2016.
“I think I’m athletic enough to do anything, it’s a matter of what’s most consistent,” Turner said when asked what he thought he did best at short.
“I fielded constantly when I was playing center field, I still would take ground balls at second base and shortstop all the time because I may have played there in a game and also that’s what I want to do, so I worked on it a lot last year and this year I can put all my focus on it,” Turner explained.
He also said he didn’t expect things to be much different from when he played short in the minors.
“It’s all the same, like I said, it’s completing the play. It’s more fans, more pressure, but I put a lot of pressure on myself, so I expect to make every play, and if I don’t then I’m going to learn from it, move on and try to make the next one.”
Asked what exactly he means by “completing” the play, Turner explained that it was simple: “Catch the ball, throw the ball and make sure the first baseman catches it.”
If I’m a little slower and the guy beats the ball out,” he said, “I still completed it and I go from there. Maybe I need to speed it up a little bit, but I gave myself a shot, gave my team a shot and that’s something I learned in college, just catch the ball, throw the ball, complete the play.”
“I don’t care how it looks, just that he’s out, so just work on it, continue to try to get better, lean on some guys who have done it a lot more than I have like Stephen Drew, [Emmanuel Burriss] and those guys and kind of pick their brains.”
Turner was also asked if he’d spent any time looking back on his rookie campaign and what, if anything, he learned from his experiences.
The big takeaway, he said, was the knowledge that, “I can play at the level and like I keep saying, competing.”
“You’ve got to expect to get a hit in your next at bat if you’re 0 for 4 or 0 for 30,” he said.
“You’ve got to go up there with confidence and know that and also know if you’re 30 for 30 your next at bat you can get out so it’s just a matter of keeping your head high, keep pushing and have some confidence.”