Trea Turner isn't ready for the Nationals. Or the Nationals aren't ready for him. Either way, he won't be on this year's Opening Day roster.
The Nationals optioned Turner, their No. 2 prospect, to Triple-A Syracuse on Monday as part of a series moves aimed at slimming the Major League roster down to 25 ahead of the April 4 season opener against the Braves.
Turner competed with Danny Espinosa this spring for the starting shortstop gig in Washington. With Monday's announcement, it appears the latter has won despite batting 4-for-30 (.133) with 11 strikeouts in 13 Grapefruit League games. Turner was comparably solid, going 9-for-36 (.250) with a .766 OPS and seven steals in 22 games. But with Espinosa coming off a 2015 season in which he produced a .240/.311/.409 line with 13 homers, the Nationals felt comfortable in giving the 28-year-old the edge.
There was plenty of other evidence beyond spring results, however, that points to Turner being ready to take on the game's highest level.
The 2014 first-rounder hit .314/.353/.431 with three homers and 17 steals in 48 games with Syracuse last season, following his delayed move from the Padres system in June. He moved up to the Nationals in August and went 9-for-40 (.225) the rest of the way while playing intermittently. Given his superior Minor League hitting numbers and impressive speed, MLB.com named him the game's No. 11 prospect this offseason, and the Steamer600 projection system believes Turner would be the most productive shortstop option for the Nats this season, projecting him to hit .282 with 10 homers and 23 steals if given 600 plate appearances.
Turner is likely headed to Syracuse due to service-time concerns. The 22-year-old has 45 days of Major League service time under his belt, but if he's kept in the Minors until late May or June, the Nationals could gain an extra year of team control. Monday's move is a sign that the club believes Espinosa is capable of holding down the fort at short until then.