Missouri native Jacob Turner was selected ninth overall by the Detroit Tigers in the 2009 Draft. He has a live arm and continues to make progress with his off-speed offerings in a bid to move his game to the next level.
The 19-year-old combined to go 6-5 with a 3.28 ERA and 102 strikeouts over 115 1/3 innings across two levels in 2010, and he figures to be a big part of the Tigers' plans going forward.
Turner spoke to MiLB.com about his emotions on Draft day, becoming a millionaire overnight and his thoughts on his first year in the Minor Leagues.
MiLB.com: You've always thrown hard, but I read that you could throw 92 or 93 mph as a 14-year-old. Is there any truth to that?
Turner: My freshman year was the first year I had been clocked by a radar gun and I was up to 92, and that was when I was 15. Ever since then, I just slowly got stronger and gained more and more velocity. I had never really thought I was throwing that hard because I had never been clocked, so it was hard to tell. But I was definitely surprised to find out.
Not throwing too many curveballs was one of the things that my dad had looked into, and he decided it would be a better idea for me to hold off on throwing any kind of breaking pitch for a while and let my arm develop naturally. And that benefited me in the long run by keeping my arm as healthy as possible.
MiLB.com: Your pitching coach in high school was former Major Leaguer Todd Worrell. What did you learn from him?
Turner: The biggest thing I learned from him was how to go about your business on the mound from a mental aspect. He also taught me how to throw a curveball. I hadn't thrown a ton of them and it was pretty far behind my fastball in terms of location and how consistent it was. He really helped me along with that and got it to the point where it was today.
MiLB.com: Heading into the 2009 Draft, can you put into words your emotions and what you were experiencing?
Turner: A lot of things -- I was excited, but at the same time I was nervous and I didn't know what was going to happen. With the baseball Draft, especially for a high school player, it is so unpredictable, so we didn't really know if I was going to get drafted high enough that I would bypass college or end up at North Carolina.
I just decided to let the chips fall where they may and then decide after that, see how everything shook out and then take a step back, look at both options and see what was best for me. When I was younger, that was every kid's dream -- to be drafted in the Major League Baseball Draft, much less the first round, so it was definitely a dream come true. There were a lot of things going through my mind, but when the Tigers picked me there was a lot of excitement.
MiLB.com: How did it feel to be a multi-millionaire as a teenager?
Turner: It was definitely a weird feeling at first to know you have a certain amount of money from the Tigers. It was a good feeling both ways, without going to college to have some financial security, but at the same time you also feel like the Tigers really made a commitment to you to develop you and make you the best player you can be.
I had a car before I signed and I kept that, and I haven't bought anything too exciting yet. The contract hasn't changed me too much as a person, and I always tell my brothers and my parents that if you ever see a change in me, to let me know because I don't ever want to be someone that gets changed by the money. It is just money, so I didn't really change my lifestyle because of the contract.
MiLB.com: You had an impressive professional debut on April 10 for West Michigan, striking out seven and allowing two hits over five shutout innings. What do you remember about that day?
Turner: I was actually pretty nervous, considering it was my professional debut in a regular-season game. I wanted to go out there and kinda prove I belonged. Once I got out there, the nerves calmed down and I was able to do my thing. My parents weren't able to come up for that game, but they got to a few games when I was playing for the Whitecaps because they lived in St. Louis and we played a few teams in the Midwest area.
MiLB.com: You made 11 appearances with West Michigan over three months in the Midwest League before earning a promotion to Lakeland. What differences did you notice at each level?
Turner: The biggest thing at the start was the adjustment to the professional game. It's a lot faster than high school. The players are a lot better and pitching every five days definitely takes a toll on your body and your arm. And it takes time to get used to it.
When I first got down to Lakeland, I struggled at the beginning and I think that was really good for me because in high school you're facing lesser competition. The hitters were more patient and stronger here, and if you left pitches up in the zone, they hit balls a little bit harder and a little bit farther. My mechanics got out of whack because I was trying to do a little too much rather than just trying to stay within myself. When I got back to that, I was fine.
To struggle and come back strong definitely gives me a better mind-set coming into next season.
MiLB.com: How would you evaluate your first season?
Turner: I would say there were some ups and downs, but overall it was a solid year. I felt like I learned a lot and improved and that is what the Minor Leagues are all about -- improving each and every year and trying to reach your full potential. The biggest thing I want to work on, pitching-wise now, is getting consistency with all three of my pitches -- my fastball, my curveball and my changeup. Obviously, right now my fastball is ahead of both my other pitches, but that is one of those things that I've been trying to work on. I try to make sure I have the same mechanics and progression through every pitch, throwing it just like a fastball.
MiLB.com: You got an opportunity to travel a lot with the Whitecaps. What cities have you enjoyed playing in?
Turner: My favorite city so far has probably been Grand Rapids, where West Michigan is. I really liked it up there and it reminded me a lot about home in St. Louis. There were a lot of great cities in the Midwest League, but I loved playing in Dayton. They have a great fan base and they really pack out the stadium. Their fans are into every game and it was a fun place to play.
There were a couple bus trips in the Midwest League that were pretty long, but I tried to sleep and make it go by as fast as I could. The other guys would watch movies and try to kill time and we definitely had a few characters on the team that lightened the mood. Once I got to the Florida State League, there weren't many long trips at all.
MiLB.com: The names of top pitching prospects often get thrown around in the offseason when trade rumors are rampant. With the Tigers possibly looking to make some moves before April, have you been paying attention to what fans and writers have been saying?
Turner: I haven't really heard anything about that. Rumors are always going to be prevalent when you're talking about baseball in the offseason, but I don't really concern myself too much with stuff like that. I'd definitely say it is an honor if other teams value me, but ultimately every Minor Leaguer is in the same position, trying to get to the big leagues as fast as they can.
MiLB.com: Realistically, how far away from the Majors do you think you are?
Turner: I really don't have any idea. I go out there every single day and do my best and let the Tigers take care of the rest.