Trea Turner is not the reigning NL Rookie of the Year. He would be if he had been called up earlier. Or so goes the thinking.
Sure, Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager was better than advertised and fully deserved his hardware. But what Turner did in half a season was downright historic. In case you missed it, after being called up in early July and getting plugged into the Nationals' starting lineup tout de suite, the former 13th overall pick spent the remainder of the season blowtorching the bigs. Despite playing in just 74 games, he tallied 33 steals (tied for fifth in the NL), eight triples (T- fifth), and 13 home runs (T-seventh among NL rookies). Oh, by the way, he hit .342. And he did all that while learning a brand-new position, center field -- but that’s just gravy to the mashed potatoes that were Turner’s mind-numbing numbers.
Just how unprecedented was Turner’s semi-season? According to ESPN Stats & Information, here’s the complete list of MLB players -- rookie or otherwise – who have recorded 10-plus homers and 30-plus steals in 80 games or fewer:
Trea Turner, Washington Nationals (2016)
That’s it. That’s the whole megillah. Turner is also just the fifth rookie to go .300/10 HRs/30 SBs in a season, regardless of number of games. For the record, the other four dudes in that group (Mike Trout, Rickey Henderson, Minnie Minoso and Duke Kenworthy) all played at least 139 games. Or nearly twice as many as Turner.
All of which raises the question: What can we expect from a full season of Turner? Surely, we can’t just multiply his numbers by two. I mean, we could, but that would work out to 26 bombs and 66 steals. And of course the .342 average. In case you’re wondering, here’s the complete list of MLB players who’ve ever posted 25-plus taters and 60-plus steals while hitting .340 or better:
The closest anyone has ever come to hitting all those marks is Henderson, who in 1990 went .325/28 HRs/65 SBs en route to winning his only MVP award. Is it foolish to envision Turner pulling off something that Henderson, a Hall of Famer and the greatest leadoff hitter ever, couldn’t? Is it crazy to think that Turner -- a career.316 hitter in the minors who had 19 homers in more than 1,000 at-bats -- can keep up his eye-popping rookie pace over a full major league season?
“There's no question that he's capable of doing everything that we've seen,” says one NL exec. “He's such a good athlete, he's got good instincts, and he's got a tool that can't be taught that he knows how to use very well, which is his speed. The thing that’s surprised a lot of people is the power the kid has. He's got impact power. And with legs like that, he's going to get a lot of doubles and triples. Plus, he's going to get a lot of hard-hit balls that might be outs for other people, but they aren't going to be for him.”
Adds an AL scout: “It's going to be hard for him to duplicate what he did last year for an entire season. They've got a bit of a book on him now. He's a good fastball hitter, especially early in the count. But when he got behind, breaking balls gave him a little bit of a problem. Pitchers will make adjustments, so he's going to have to make adjustments.”
"I don't know if anyone can replicate that all year long, but I do know this: The guy is a consistent All-Star and he's going to become one of the best 10 players in the game."
One of the biggest adjustments Turner will have to make is moving back to his old position. In June, the Nationals -- who had slick-fielding Danny Espinosa at shortstop but were desperate for center field help -- asked Turner to move to the outfield. So what if he hadn’t played there since the ninth grade? So what if he started just six minor league games there before getting called up? The crazy thing is, it worked.
“I saw him play center,” says the NL exec, “and the difference in where he started and where he finished was remarkable. He was going to be an above-average center fielder. The question is, how’s he going to be in the infield?”
Perhaps more importantly, now that Espinosa is gone, if Turner experiences any growing pains at shortstop (he committed 34 errors in 232 minor league games at short) and/or if he has problems dealing with the added responsibility of being a big league field general, how will that affect his production at the plate? For what it’s worth, he isn’t the least bit concerned.
“I don’t think defense gets any harder than learning a brand-new position,” says Turner. “If I could succeed in center, then I think I can succeed at a position I played for a long time.”
If he does that, he should have no problem succeeding at the plate. Whether he can have as much success as he had last year remains to be seen.
“I don’t know if anyone can replicate that all year long,” says the NL exec, “but I do know this: The guy is a consistent All-Star and he's going to become one of the best 10 players in the game.”
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