Trea Turner Comparables
Jimmy Rollins stands only 5′ – 7″ but to date he has fashioned a 16-season career that saw him bat lead-off for the Philadelphia Phillies over a span in which they went to the playoffs five consecutive seasons and carried home a World Series Championship in 2008. Speed and sure hands were his best skills and they were enough to support him three times as an NL All-Star shortstop and as the NL MVP in 2007. Does Trea Turner have comparable skills. The answer is completely unknown, but it is the kind of ceiling to which Turner aspires. (FanGraphs lists Alcides Escobar as another comp in Chris Mitchell’s discussion of the issue).
It is also the ceiling the Washington Nationals would like to see Turner approach, though it is admittedly a stretch. When Ian Desmond turned down the team’s long term offer two seasons ago, the search for his replacement ended with Turner and Washington sees him as a top of the order table-setter to rival Rollins. Turner has the speed to compete with Jimmy Rollins, though it remains to be seen if Turner can manage 30+ steals on a consistent basis. Rollins topped 40 steals on four occasions and it is the one area where Turner has the best chance to match the Philly All-Star. Turner had 29 stolen bases in less than 454 at-bats in the minors in 2015. Add the two he managed in the Majors and it is easy to see Trea Turner as a 30+ steals performer for years to come.
Rollins was outstanding on both sides of the ball, however. He generated 4+ WAR on a half-dozen occasions because he had superior range, soft hands and a sure arm. It is not known whether Turner will ever live up to the comparison as a defensive player. There are some who question Turner’s ability to stick at shortstop, not the least of whom is Mike Rizzo, the Nationals GM who played him at second base last season during his first cup of coffee in the Majors. The issue is Turner’s arm strength. Regardless the final verdict, at this juncture Turner is competing with Danny Espinosa for the Nationals starting shortstop position in 2016.
Espinosa is almost certainly the better glove man of the two so Rizzo and Dusty Baker will have to believe that Turner is the superior player offensively if Turner is to make the trip north with the Nationals at the end of Spring Training. Daniel Murphy is going to start at second base and Steven Drew is the back up. Turner has to beat out Espinosa to make the team.
If Espinosa has a good spring and Turner falters, the North Carolina State prodigy will get seasoning at Triple-A Syracuse to see whether Espinosa can maintain a high level of performance over the first months of the season. Regardless how that tryout goes, Trea Turner is the Nationals’ shortstop of the future and if both players respond well to the competition for a roster spot, Washington has a trade chip of some value in Espinosa early on, or maybe in June or July.
The other crucial question for Turner–other than his ability to handle shortstop–is his ability to get on base consistently. His OBP over 700+ at bats in the minors was .384, but he hit .322 and since he projects as more of a .280+ hitter in the Majors, it remains to be seen whether his numbers will support a spot as a lead-off hitter long term. So while the jury is still out, the case cannot be made that Turner will match Jimmy Rollins in most categories.
The downside comparable for Turner may be D.J. LeMahieu. LeMahieu plays second base, relies on speed to project his value and is a plus defender. Turner may have more speed than his possible Rockies’ counterpart and may have more overall value to the Nationals as a plus-plus defensive second baseman. Washington would likely be quite happy to have Turner at 2B, hitting .280-.300 and stealing 30 bags per season. Daniel Murphy has a three year deal, which means that Turner needs to be able to handle shortstop for the better part of the next two seasons since Murphy could play left field once Jayson Werth’s contract expires in 2017.
If Trea Turner can handle shortstop in the short term but slides over to second ultimately, the Nationals should be quite content. They traded only Steven Souza for both Turner and Joe Ross–currently is penciled in as Washington’s fourth starter for the 2016 season. If both Turner and Ross realize any of the value they have shown to date, the trade will go down as the best Rizzo has made since taking the helm in DC–though the Doug Fister trade was nice as well. The bottom line that remains to be resolved is just how much value he and the Nationals got and this coming season will do much to shed light on that issue as well as Trea Turner’s value to the team long term.