Turner should be favorite for Nats shortstop; Matz returns to Mets
January 18, 2016
Trea Turner's 2015 season began as a Padres prospect who knew he was going to become a Nationals prospect and ended as a Nationals infielder in the Majors who wasn't sure what was coming next.
MLB.com's No. 11 overall prospect was the player to be named later in the three-team trade involving the Padres, Nationals and Rays in December 2014. He couldn't officially be dealt until June under a now-defunct Major League rule banning the trade of players within a year of being drafted. Upon joining the Nats system, the shortstop showed why he was so coveted, producing a .322/.355/.445 line with three homers and 18 steals in 56 games at Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse.
The Nationals called up their No. 2 prospect Aug. 21, but with Ian Desmond at short and Anthony Rendon healthy enough again to play second base regularly, Turner played infrequently. The 22-year-old finished the season 9-for-40 (.225) with one homer, a double and two steals in 27 games, mostly as a pinch-hitter, pinch-runner or defensive replacement.
Now, however, the path looks clear for Turner to grab the starting shortstop job in his first spring as a National. Desmond is a free agent after rejecting a one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer, and it doesn't look like Washington is actively pursuing him after he posted his lowest OPS (.674) since 2011. That leaves the job open for a spring competition between Turner and versatile Danny Espinosa.
Jump to a team:
According to Steamer600 projections, explained last week in the Prospect Projections opener on AL East rookies, Turner looks like the better option. The projection system pegs him for a .282/.325/.398 line with 10 homers and 23 stolen bases, if he gets 600 plate appearances in the Majors. Add in defense and Steamer believes Turner would be worth 2.2 WAR, fourth-highest among Nationals position players. Espinosa, by comparison, is projected for a .229/.291/.368 line and 0.4 WAR.
Nationals director of player development Mark Scialabba said Turner will have to earn his spot in Spring Training, no matter what the projections say, but added that the organization is excited for what he could bring to the lineup.
"We have high expectations for [Turner], but I don't want to get into expectations in terms of numbers," Scialabba said. "We'll see where he is in his progression when he gets to his first Spring Training with us, but if he produces and can help the team win in any way, we'll be happy. And we certainly think he can make an impact early on."
One of Turner's former managers thinks the projections are a fairly accurate depiction of Turner's capabilities in the Majors.
"Yeah, it sounds right," said Billy Gardner Jr., who managed Turner last season in Syracuse. "One thing about Trea -- he's a kind of a wiry kid, but he's got good hands and his wrists get the through the strike zone really quickly. The ball just jumps off his bat. Now he's not a big homer guy; he's more of a big alley guy that'll get a lot of doubles and triples. But he should have a high on-base percentage and projects to be at the top of a lineup, I'd say."
Turner's speed is undeniably his best asset, with MLB.com giving the tool a 75 grade on the 20-80 scale. Indeed, his Steamer600-projected 23 steals would be second-most among potential Nationals starters behind only Ben Revere (30). That could be what pushes him over the edge to a starting spot, especially with a new manager in Dusty Baker.
"He's a dynamic type, and that's something Dusty's talked about having on the team," Gardner said. "Dusty likes speed and he'd like to have more speed. Trea's got plenty of that."
Give it time: Wilmer Difo went from a full season at Class A Hagerstown in 2014 to being called up to the Majors three times last season. The impressive jump had a lot to do with his spot on the 40-man roster, but the 23-year-old infielder went 2-for-11 in 15 games with the Nationals and produced a .279/.312/.387 line in 87 games at Double-A. Steamer doesn't have high hopes that Difo would be a major contributor offensively, outside his ability to steal a few games. He might be best served by finding his footing at Syracuse.
Wild card: Spencer Kieboom turns 25 in March and hasn't played above Class A Advanced Potomac, but Steamer believes he is Washington's second-best option behind the plate behind Wilson Ramos. The 2012 fifth-rounder earns his best scouting grades on the defensive side, even after back-to-back All-Star seasons. Added to the 40-man roster in November, he has an outside shot to crack the Majors in 2016.
Top-100 talent: Based on WAR alone, there's a case that Giolito is actually the most Major League-ready prospect listed here. But the Nationals aren't about to start the 21-year-old right-hander's service time clock early, especially after he's made only eight starts at Double-A Harrisburg. MLB.com's No. 3 overall prospect will take his stellar stuff to the upper levels in 2016 and could be looking at a second-half big league debut.
Most ready: This one is surprising. The Braves have made a series of moves in recents months to acquire top prospects like Dansby Swanson, Sean Newcomb and Aaron Blair, with their eyes firmly set on the future. Yet it's No. 27 prospect John Gant, acquired for Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson in July, who looks most ready to tackle the Majors, according to Steamer. Gant impressed after joining the Braves by going 4-0 with a 1.99 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 43 strikeouts over 40 2/3 innings at Double-A Mississippi. He'll likely start the year at Triple-A Gwinnett, but as a 23-year-old on the 40-man roster, he'll only be a phone call away from his big league debut.
Give it time: Before the acquisition of Ender Inciarte, it looked like Mallex Smith would get a chance to stake his claim as the Braves' Opening Day center fielder. The 22-year-old has speed to burn, as shown by 57 steals between the top two levels of the Minors in 2015. With a career .380 OBP, he's shown an ability to work well at the top of a lineup, but Steamer isn't quite as high on him after he had a .339 OBP at Triple-A last season. The projections peg him for a .258/.313/.340 line in 600 theoretical plate appearances. Smith's ticketed for a Gwinnett return, with his first Major League call likely to come as a speed option off the bench.
Wild card: Newcomb has the makings of a pitcher who could pop onto the big stage this year. He struck out 168 batters over 136 innings across three levels in the Angels system and held opponents to a .199 average. Two things stand in his way: First, he'll have to work on his control after averaging 5.0 BB/9 in the Minors. (Steamer actually believes he could bring that down to 4.8 in the Majors.) Second, he'd have to get added to the 40-man roster. If he pitches up to his potential at the upper levels, the Braves might not mind making that happen.
Top-100 talent: Steamer didn't make this exercise very easy. It didn't give a projection on top prospect Dansby Swanson or Kolby Allard, both of whom just made their pro debuts. Also, it projected Aaron Blair as a reliever, despite the fact that 63 of his 64 career appearances have been starts. As for those who got tangible projections, Ozhaino Albies and Touki Toussaint both look years away after spending all of 2015 at Class A. As the only top-100 prospect in the Braves system to reach Triple-A, Blair is the most likely of this group to make the Majors in 2016, but it'll take an opening on the 40-man roster for that to happen.
Most ready: Marlins fans should recognize No. 4 prospect Kendry Flores from his five-game cameo with the big club last August before right shoulder tendinitis put him on the disabled list. The 24-year-old right-hander has had excellent control (career 2.2 BB/9) during his time in the Giants and Marlins systems and, after he posted a 2.34 ERA at Double-A Jacksonville and Triple-A New Orleans, Steamer likes his chances if he cracks the Marlins rotation -- his 1.6 WAR is fifth-highest among Marlins pitchers. He'll be in the rotation discussion this spring, but it'll likely take an impressive Grapefruit League showing or injuries to other candidates to keep him from returning to the PCL.
Give it time: One year after being left unprotected and unpicked in the Rule 5 Draft, Jarlin Garcia finally was added to the 40-man roster in November. He's considered the Marlins' No. 2 prospect and has drawn solid reviews for his fastball and control. Steamer believes he could be an OK back-end starter for a whole season, but the Marlins aren't likely to push the left-hander, who just turned 23, after he posted a 4.91 ERA in his first seven Double-A starts. Expect a return to Jacksonville.
Wild card: Don't worry, Ivan Pineyro isn't being completely ignored. The team's No. 25 prospect is actually Steamer's favorite Marlins pitching prospect for 2016 with a projected WAR of 1.8. The problem is, unlike Flores and Garcia, Pineyro isn't on the 40-man roster, so to call him "most ready" would be overlooking the logistical problems of finding him a big league spot. Instead, he'll be part of a young New Orleans rotation with Flores.
Top-100 talent: Tyler Kolek, the highest pick to sign from the 2014 Draft, is Miami's sole representative in the top 100 and doesn't look like he's on the fast track after posting a 4.56 ERA with 81 strikeouts and 61 walks over 108 2/3 frames at Class A Greensboro. The 20-year-old right-hander will need to work on his control and is looking at least two more seasons in the Minors.
Most ready: This is the easiest "most ready" category in the NL East. Steven Matz went 4-0 with a 2.27 ERA and 34 strikeouts in six regular-season starts (35 2/3 innings) with the Mets a season ago and even got three starts during the club's run to the World Series. He's already slated to be the No. 4 starter in arguably the best rotation in baseball and Steamer likes his chances to make an even bigger impact over a full season of big league ball.
Give it time: Mets fans have been looking for a long-term solution at the shortstop position since Jose Reyes departed after the 2011 season and, as MLB.com's No. 90 prospect, Gavin Cecchini might be that shortstop. The 22-year-old was the 12th overall pick in 2012 and produced a solid .317/.377/.442 line in 109 games at Double-A Binghamton. That said, Steamer doesn't think he'd be the best option yet with Wilmer Flores projected to be worth 2.3 WAR, and the Mets also added Asdrubal Cabrera in December. Cecchini could get a cup of coffee if all goes well at Triple-A Las Vegas, but he won't be in any Opening Day discussions until 2017.
Wild card: With Zack Wheeler slated to return in June and Bartolo Colon re-signing, the Mets rotation is going to be stacked. Still, Steamer thinks Seth Lugo could be an interesting option, should the Mets need one. Their 26th-ranked prospect posted a 3.84 ERA, 8.4 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 between Triple-A and Double-A in 2015, and Steamer doesn't believe he'd be too far off those numbers in the Majors. The 2011 34th-rounder is on the 40-man roster and will start the season back at Las Vegas, so a 2016 debut should be in the cards, even if it takes a rotation emergency to make it happen.
Top-100 talent: There's a lot to like about Dominic Smith after he was named Florida State League MVP and earned his way onto the All-Prospect Team in the Arizona Fall League last year. The reason for his poor WAR is that Steamer doesn't like his lack of power at first base, but that may come as the 20-year-old matures. His future offensive profile remains bright, with Double-A Binghamton coming up in 2016.
ost ready: It's well known that Crawford is the Phillies' long-term shortstop solution, and Steamer seems to believe that the future is now by projecting the 21-year-old to be worth 2.0 WAR over a full season. That beats out the 2015 projections for Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor, who became two of the best rookies in recent memory. Steamer likes that Crawford was an above-average bat as a 20-year-old at Class A Advanced and Double-A in 2015 and would probably like him even more if it took his plus defense into account. The Phillies surely aren't going to rush MLB.com's No. 5 overall prospect during their rebuild, but an impressive start to the season at Triple-A Lehigh Valley could push the envelope.
Give it time: With Cameron Rupp and Carlos Ruiz looking more like placeholders, Jorge Alfaro is an intriguing option behind the plate. The 22-year-old, who came over from Texas in the Cole Hamels deal, is MLB.com's top-ranked catching prospect and has an intriguing profile with plus power and a plus-plus arm. Steamer has him as a 1.1 WAR player, the same as Rupp. The Phils want him to get more time in the Minors, especially after left ankle surgery limited him to 49 games at Double-A in 2015. Alfaro is, however, the only catcher on the 40-man roster other than Ruiz or Rupp.
Wild card: Don't rule out Mark Appel -- Steamer isn't. Despite a 5.12 career ERA in the Minors, he could be a serviceable back-end starter, according to the projection system, following his trade from the Astros last month. The prevailing story for the 24-year-old right-hander is that a change of scenery could do him some good, and though he's not on the 40-man roster, the Phils invited him to Spring Training. If Appel can rediscover his Stanford form and his results start to match his impressive stuff, the Phils would love to give him his Major League debut this summer.
Top-100 talent: Nick Williams and Jake Thompson, two other relative newbies acquired in the Hamels deal, also received non-roster invitations to Spring Training after splitting last season between Double-A Frisco and Reading. Williams' power is ready, but he needs to work on his on-base skills before he looks Major League-ready. Thompson will seek more consistency after posting disparate ERAs in the Texas (4.72) and Eastern Leagues (1.80) last season.
Sam Dykstra is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.