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Washington Nationals’ hitting coach Kevin Long on Trea Turner continuing to improve...

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Trea Turner wants to improve his defense, but at the plate the shortstop was one of the best in baseball last summer.

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Washington Nationals v St. Louis Cardinals Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Trea Turner finished MLB’s 60-game, 2020 COVID campaign with a .335/.394/.588 line, 15 doubles, four triples, 12 home runs, and 12 stolen bases, playing in 59 of the 60 games, and making a total of 259 plate appearances, over which he was worth a team-leading 2.7 fWAR.

Turner, 27, finished the season ranked 1st in the majors across the line in AVG, OBP, and SLG, among qualified shortstops, and the Nationals’ infielder’s 2.7 fWAR total, was behind only the San Diego Padres’ Fernando Tatís, Jr. (2.9) among major league shortstops. His 12 home runs were the third most in the majors, his 46 runs scored were third, his 12 stolen bases were fourth, and his 158 wRC+ were tops.

As good as he was in 2020, Nats’ manager Davey Martinez said, “he definitely has potential to grow and get better.”

Martinez, who has championed Turner throughout their time together in the nation’s capital said he thinks the shortstop is already one of the best in the game, but there’s always room for improvement.

Miami Marlins v Washington Nationals Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

“I have always told him he’s one of the most exciting players in the game, he really is,” the skipper said.

“The things that he can do out there, the sky is the limit, and the good thing is he wants to get better. He wants to be the best.

“As far as I see him, as we all know I thought he was a candidate to be an MVP last year, and he’s only going to get better, and I think the one thing — the one thing that he understands, is that he needs to get better on defense.

“And like I said that’s going to be his focus this spring, that he wants to get better.

“We’re going to be here for him. He wants to do it. He’s out there every day, he’s been coming out early every day, and he’s going to get better.”

Turner acknowledged his defensive deficiencies in 2020 when he spoke to reporters early in Spring Training.

“I liked a lot of things,” he said of his 2020 season overall.

“Obviously,” he added, “the defense I want to work on, I felt like in the past I had been a good defender and I wanted to improve my offense, and now going in this year almost seems like the opposite.”

“I’ve talked to him too about his defense, believe it or not, about solidifying that part of the ball,” Turner’s (the Nationals’) hitting coach, Kevin Long, said last week on a Zoom call.

“He’s worked really hard on that and he said he feels good on that side. So, it’s fun to watch Trea kind of mature and develop as a player.

“He’s special. He’s a really talented individual, who is kind of figuring it out.”

What did Long see from Turner at the plate last season? He talked at length about Turner’s growth as an offensive player.

“I think Trea understands his swing better than he’s ever understood it before in his life,” Long said.

“He understands how his body is supposed to work, he understands the position he’s supposed to get in. He understands how important the strike zone is.

“He understands what opposing pitchers — he’s really grown as well. He’s turned himself into a legitimate MVP candidate by the way he’s played, and last year was another really good year for him and another growing year. He got better.”

One thing that stood out for Long, and caught him off guard, was Turner’s development of opposite field power.

Miami Marlins v Washington Nationals Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

“He did some things that really surprised me,” Long said.

“One was the amount of power that he possessed the other way. That kind of shocked me.

“I wasn’t expecting him to have that kind of opposite field power. But we saw that kind of play last year.”

The hitting coach also said he was impressed with Turner’s two-strike adjustments.

“I just, again, he’s got a great two-strike approach,” Long beamed. “Half of your at bats are going to end at two strikes. He knows that. He understands it. And he’s worked really hard to get himself a two-strike approach. He gets his foot down early. He makes adjustments with two strikes. A lot like Juan Soto does, but he’s continuing to mature and grow.”

The ability to recognize his weaknesses, on defense, and at the plate, is an important trait as well, and, a reporter noted, Turner has been able to identify and address issues with pitches low and away, one of his cold zones which he attacked well in 2020.

“I really liked the fact that you mention that,” Long said, “because that was a cold zone. But what he’s really done is he’s backed up the baseball.”

“In order to hit that down and away pitch you have to really let the ball travel,” he explained.

“Because it’s a really short path to to get that, you can’t get long, you can’t get out front, otherwise you won’t be precise on that pitch.

“He did make that adjustment, he actually backed the ball up better than I’ve ever seen him since I’ve been here, and he was able to cover that really, really well last year.”

The question, Long said, also hit on something that was a focus last year and again this spring.

“As you spoke to that, that’s really what we’ve been working on this spring,” Long said.

“Getting him in that position and getting that feel for being really short and more or less to the outside pitch.

“He’s really good about reacting to the ball in. He doesn’t really have much problem in there, he gets to those pitches easy.

“We’ll continue to monitor that and see where he’s at there. But that’s what we’re working on right now.”