The roster of the 2007 Dragons was loaded with future Major League players. In the most commonly used lineup that season, eight of the nine starters reached the big leagues. They included catcher Eddy Rodriguez; second baseman Justin Turner
; shortstop Chris Valaika; third baseman Juan Francisco; outfielders Chris Heisey, Drew Stubbs, and Denis Phipps; and starting pitcher Jordan Smith.
That Dragons team started the season by winning their first nine games and 23 of their first 27. The top batting average on that Dragons club belonged to Turner, known as "Red" to his teammates because of the color of his hair. Turner went on to become the 38th Dragons player in the Major Leagues and over the last two years, has solidified his status as a big league member of the New York Mets.
Justin Turner was drafted by the Reds in the seventh round in 2006 out of perennial college power Cal State Fullerton, where he enjoyed an outstanding career. Turner was a freshman All-American in 2003 and named that season to the College World Series All-Tournament team. Then as a sophomore in 2004, Turner and Cal State Fullerton went all the way, winning the national championship. As a senior, Turner was the top hitter on the 2006 Fullerton team that went to a third College World Series in four years and finished the year ranked #3 in the country. Turner hit over .300 in all four seasons of college baseball.
After signing with the Reds in 2006, Turner joined the Billings Mustangs and hit .338 to rank fourth in the Pioneer League in batting average. The Mustangs went 51-25 that season and many of the players moved up to Dayton for 2007. The top three hitters rarely changed in Donnie Scott's batting order over the first half of the '07 season. Turner was slotted in as the second hitter, behind Stubbs and before Valaika. He was the club's everyday second baseman.
As the Dragons opened the 2007 with a nine-game winning streak, Turner got off to a hot start as well. He hit .353 over his first nine games. On May 9 at Fifth Third Field against Peoria, Turner went 4 for 5 with his first home run of the season, driving in three and scoring three times. Starting May 14, he produced six multi-hit games over an eight-game stretch as his average stood at .336. He hit safely in 18 of 19 games during a hot streak in June and finished the first half batting .309 with six home runs and 30 runs batted in. Turner, Stubbs, Valaika, Francisco, and pitchers Rafael Gonzalez, Marcos Mateo, and Sean Watson all represented the Dragons in the Midwest League All-Star Game.
Turner's second half with the Dragons was similar to the first. On July 8 at South Bend, he collected four hits, absent only a triple of hitting for the cycle. He produced another four-hit game on August 16, his third of the season. After back-to-back three-hit games on August 27-28, Turner was promoted to Sarasota. His final Dayton numbers included an average of .311, the second highest single-season mark in Dragons history (Tonys Gutierrez hit .324 in 2005 to set the club record). Turner also added 10 home runs, 59 RBI, and 12 stolen bases. He was selected as the second baseman on the Midwest League's full-season all-star team.
After the season, Baseball America ranked Turned as the 29th best prospect in the Reds organization, describing him as a "pure baseball player with outstanding instincts, a love of the game and an ability to turn every ounce of his potential into production."
Turner split the 2008 season between Sarasota and Double-A Chattanooga, finishing the year at .298. Counting his four years of college and two previous years of Minor League Baseball, Turner had hit at least .300 for six straight seasons before coming up two points short. He hit eight homers over the course of the season.
Following the 2008 campaign, in need of a catcher, the Reds picked up veteran Ramon Hernandez from the Orioles. Hernandez would serve the Reds well over the next three seasons, but the price for the acquisition was the late big league outfielder Ryan Freel along with prospects Brandon Waring and Justin Turner.
Turner spent most of 2009 with the Orioles Triple-A club, Norfolk, batting an even .300. In September, his contract was purchased by the Orioles and he made his big league debut on September 8 against Boston. He appeared in 12 games for the Orioles over the course of the month, going 3 for 18 (.167). In 2010, Turner was claimed off waivers by the New York Mets and spent most of that season with their Triple-A affiliate, Buffalo, batting .316 to finish fifth in the International League. He also played in nine big league games that season.
The 2011 season marked a career turn for Turner. He spent almost the entire season in the big leagues with the Mets and emerged as an everyday Major Leaguer for the first time in his career, playing either second base or third. He played in 117 games, batting .260 with four home runs and 51 RBI. From May 14-21, Turner drove in runs in seven straight games to set a Mets rookie record. He connected on his first big league home run on May 15, a three-run shot against the Astros in a 7-4 Mets win. On August 6, he hit two homers in the same game against the Braves.
Turner spent the 2012 season with the Mets as a utility infielder. In 94 games he hit .269 with a pair of home runs.
Turner enters the 2013 season again slated for utility duty for the Mets as the primary backup at both second and third. But he also plans to work as an outfielder in spring training, increasing his value and allowing him to gain more playing time. Turner is now 28 years old and has many more seasons in his future. His .311 average in 2007 still ranks as the second best in Dragons history. He was the 38th Dragons player to reach the Major Leagues. Next up: Juan Francisco.
Click Here for Justin Turner's Major League statistics, photos, and video clips.
Click Here for Justin Turner's Minor League statistics.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.