The 2017 World Series will begin on Tuesday night in Los Angeles when the Dodgers host the Houston Astros. The series will feature one former Dayton Dragons player-Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner, who was selected as the Co-Most Valuable Player of the National League Championship Series after helping the Dodgers advance past the Chicago Cubs.
Turner spent the 2007 season with the Dragons and was a key player on one of the most interesting teams in Dragons history. His climb from the Dragons to the World Series has taken a circuitous route that has carried him to great heights after years of struggling to hang on as a Major League player.
Turner played in the 2017 MLB All-Star Game, finished second in the National League this season in on-base percentage (behind Joey Votto), finished third in batting average, and then belted three home runs in the eight playoff games he appeared in heading into the World Series. Turner has accomplished all of that after being released by two different big league teams and traded by another.
Turner entered professional baseball as the Cincinnati Reds seventh round draft pick in 2006 out of Cal State Fullerton, where he helped the team to the College World Series title as a sophomore. After batting .338 with Billings in his first summer of professional baseball, he opened the 2007 season as the Dragons starting second baseman and #2 hitter in the lineup.
The 2007 Dragons team was filled with future big league players. The Dragons opening day lineup that season featured six players who would reach the Major Leagues. Lead-off hitter Drew Stubbs played center field, and Turner was followed in the batting order by shortstop Chris Valaika, third baseman Juan Francisco, and right fielder Denis Phipps. Lower in the order was left fielder Chris Heisey. All those players, plus catcher Eddy Rodriguez who began the season as a back-up, would enjoy time in the Major Leagues. Later that season, shortstop Zack Cozart joined the team, and at the very end of the campaign, Todd Frazier came aboard. Four pitchers off the team also reached the Majors. It was arguably the most talented team in Dragons history.
The 2007 Dragons began the season like no other Dragons club ever has. They won their first nine games, and one month into the schedule, their record stood at an amazing 23-4. They eventually qualified for the playoffs as a first-half division champion.
Meanwhile, Turner was a big contributor to the Dragons success. 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. 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 finished his season with the Dragons with a batting average of .311, still the second highest single-season mark in Dragons history. Turner also added 10 home runs and 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 followed his season in Dayton with a strong year in the Reds organization in 2008. After that season, in need of a starting catcher at the big league level, the Reds traded Turner to the Baltimore Orioles along with the late Ryan Freel and minor league prospect Brandon Waring for Major League catcher Ramon Hernandez, who would be the Reds starter behind the plate for the next three seasons.
Turner reached the Major Leagues with the Orioles in 2009 when he appeared in 12 games. He played in five more games for Baltimore in 2010 and then was claimed off waivers by the New York Mets. He played in four more games for the Mets that same season.
In 2011, Turner got his first chance at extended playing time in the big leagues when he played in 117 games for the Mets and hit .260 with four home runs, splitting time between second base and third base. He returned to the Mets in a utility infield role for both the 2012 and 2013 before being let go after the '13 season. He signed a Minor League contract with the Dodgers for 2014, and made their big league roster out of spring training.
Despite being in a part-time role in his first two seasons in Los Angeles, Turner's career took off with the Dodgers. He batted .340 in 288 at-bats in 2014, and then began to show some power in 2015, when he hit .294 with a career high 16 home runs. That season set him up as the Dodgers everyday third baseman in 2016, when he connected on 27 home runs and batted .275 with 90 RBI. After signing a new four-year contract worth a reported $64 million, Turner became an all-star in 2017, batting .322 with 21 home runs on the way to becoming the NLCS Co-MVP after a series against the Cubs that included a walk-off home run in game two.
Justin Turner is already one of 10 Dayton Dragons to play in the Major League All-Star Game. On Tuesday night, his name will be added to the short list that currently includes Johnny Cueto and Travis Wood as Turner becomes the third former Dragon to play in the World Series.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.