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Washington Nationals’ Trea Turner is not underrated ... according to his manager

Trea Turner continues to work on his defensive game while continuing to rake at the plate...

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Miami Marlins v Washington Nationals Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Offensively, Trea Turner had a big (.335/.394/.588 big) 2020 campaign at the plate, finishing up ranked first across the line amongst MLB shortstops. Turner ended up at 2.7 fWAR overall in the 60-game season, behind only Fernando Tatís, Jr. (2.9) amongst big league shortstops, with his 12 home runs third-most in the majors, his 46 runs scored third, his 12 stolen bases fourth, and his 158 wRC+ tops.

Defensively, he finished up at -7 DRS (20th among qualified big league shortstops), and at -0.5 RngR (13th), with a -2.9 UZR (19th), a .956 fld% (18th), with his nine errors the second-most in the majors (again, among qualified shortstops).

Turner’s manager, Davey Martinez, said at the end of the 2020 campaign that the shortstop is an MVP-caliber player, though he acknowledged there was still room for improvement in the 27-year-old’s game.

“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,” Martinez explained over the winter.

“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.”

“Obviously, the defense I want to work on,” Turner too acknowledged. “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, it almost seems like the opposite.”

“I think defensively I struggled a little bit, but I think they are easily-correctable and just getting that confidence out there and getting the reps down and getting back into the swing of things.”

So how is he doing on the defensive end through a month-plus in 2021?

Just 23 games in, heading into Sunday’s series finale, he had +6 DRS (1st in the majors among shortstops), and a +0.8 RngR (3rd), with a 1.7 UZR (4th), .977 fld% (10th), and two errors early this season.

With a bat in his hands, Turner started the third of three with Miami’s Marlins in D.C. with a .308/.351/.549 line, good for 2nd/2nd/1st (tied) across the line among qualified shortstops in the majors, with an MLB-best (among shortstops) +1.2 fWAR.

“I came into Spring Training wanting to work on it,” Turner said of his defensive game in a late April Zoom call with reporters, “... and I felt like in the offseason I made some good adjustments and kind of built a better foundation going into the year and now it’s just continuing that, and I feel like when you do that you have more confidence and you seem to make some more plays here and there, and for the most part I think pretty routine plays for the most part haven’t had too many tough, tough plays, but over the course of the season that would obviously happen, but you’ve just got to stick with the fundamentals.

“I feel like I’ve been playing pretty good for the most part out there, but it’s a long year and got to keep going and keep making plays for those pitchers.”

“I started early in the offseason and in Spring Training with [Bench Coach Tim Bogar] and some of the coaching staff,” Turner added, “and kind of made the fixes that I wanted to fix and kind of just ran with it and so far it’s been exactly what I thought it would be. I thought it would be these are the changes I need to make, and things I need to think in order to complete plays and so far so good and we’ll see.”

Considering the relative lack of attention Turner gets around the league, is he underrated?

“I mean, when I talk to people in this industry about Trea, he’s definitely not underrated,” Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez said in his pregame Zoom call before Sunday’s game.

“People know how good he really is. I think he just needs to go out there and continue playing the way he’s playing. I’ve said this before, he’s matured so much over the years since I’ve been here.

“He understands the game, he understands him. The sky is the limit for him. We talk about this all the time. When he stays in the middle of the field hitting, he can hit the ball out of any part of the ballpark. When he’s ready on defense, he’s got so much range. He made a play the other day on the grass, and threw somebody out at first base.

“It’s totally up to how he perceives things and where he’s at, and like I said, right now, he’s in a good place.

“He’s working his tail off to get better, and understanding how he can get better, I mean, that’s the big thing. We want him to work, we want him to work smart as well, not just go out there and take ground balls, but certain things that him and [Bogar] work on every day to make him that much better. He’s been doing that. He’s been great.”

The adjustments he’s made defensively, which seem to be working out through a sample that’s just a month-plus of data, are things he hammers every day, getting reps before he gets into games to try to make things routine.

What’s Turner doing differently?

“A couple little things like playing a little deeper in the infield,” Martinez told reporters.

“We talk about [center fielder] Victor [Robles] cutting off the angles — same thing with [Turner] playing shortstop. He’s been cutting off the angles.

“Balls at him, coming to get the ball a little bit quicker to make things a lot easier, to make the throwing a lot easier for him. He’s worked on all these things with Bogie.

“Backhands, backhands, backhands, they work on that every day. Going to the ball, flips to second, taking balls from the second baseman around the base — all that has gotten a lot better for him.”

And the growth in terms of maturity extends beyond the diamond and into the clubhouse the manager said.

“He’s more — he’s more of a quiet leader. He’s got a world of information in that brain of his,” Martinez said. “He talks to the young players, he talks to the pitchers, he sees things when he’s playing shortstop, and he comes in and he has conversations with the coaching staff and myself. So, you can see that. I see that every day from him that he’s really in tune with what’s happening out there every pitch, and it’s fun to watch. It’s fun to listen to.

“Because he comes up with some things that I thought — you sit back and say, ‘Wow, that’s pretty good that he can see that from where he’s at.’ And knows how to anticipate different things. So, he just really, really, really, like I said, he knows him. He knows the game really well. So, and it helps him throughout the game.”

“We always talk about Trea being an MVP. I think he’s an MVP-caliber player. I think playing defense is a big part of him becoming that guy. I think he understands that. He takes a lot of pride in his defense and he wants to get better at it. And you can see that. It’s definitely helped that he’s really, really in tune with what he wants to do and working with Bogie every day and getting better.”

His teammates too notice and appreciate the work Turner has put in on the defensive end.

“He’s worked really hard on his defense,” Ryan Zimmerman said this week. “I think it’s kind of crazy to recall all the way back when we first got him, kind of the question was would he be able to play shortstop at the big league level. And I think he’s worked really hard to become an above-average shortstop. Obviously being able to impact the game offensively like he can in so many ways, but now the way he plays shortstop, the way he’s learned the game, like the same thing with Max, it’s fun to watch him play. You never know what he’s going to do on a daily basis whether it’s offensively or defensively. He’s one of the most exciting players in the game and it’s a treat to watch him every day.”