Tonight the Pirates open a weekend series against the Washington Nationals at home. When the Nationals start the game off, the leadoff man will most likely be Trea Turner, the rookie 23-year old wunderkid that has solidified two problem areas for the Nationals in the second half of the season — leadoff and center field. And with just a bit more luck (and, presumably, a sizeable increase to his potential signing bonus), Turner could have been an asset of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Turner was part of the potentially outstanding 2011 draft class of the Pirates, the one that includes Gerrit Cole, Josh Bell, and Tyler Glasnow. Turner was drafted in the 20th round as a speculation pick out of high school. He had a strong commit to N.C. State, so he would have needed a sizeable bonus to be lured away. With the Pirates sealing the deal with Cole for $8M and with Bell for $5M, there weren’t a whole lot of sheckels left to give Turner, who would have probably needed $1M to be convinced not to attend college. Coming out of NC State in 2014, Turner was drafted 13th overall by the Padres and signed for $2.9M, so he made a good business decision for himself. He was traded shortly after to the Nats in a 3 team deal.
Were it not for the ridiculousness that is Corey Seager‘s rookie season, Turner would be on the very shortlist for NL Rookie of the Year with his .342/.363/.576 triple slash line, 11 homers and 27 steals, 147 wRC+, and 3.2 WAR in just 63 games. Defensively, Turner has split his time in the field fairly evenly between 2B and CF and has excelled in center. This has helped to erase the black hole, both offensively and defensively, that was Ben Revere and Michael Taylor.
Although Trea Turner is doing very well in center field, he was drafted as a shortstop and that’s where he played the vast majority of his minor league career. But with Danny Espinoza having a good season power-wise and Daniel Murphy having an MVP-caliber season at second, the Nationals started to play Turner in center this year to get his bat and legs to the Majors. There’s some doubt that Turner is a shortstop long-term in the Majors, but I’d be willing to give him every opportunity to disprove that. Jordy Mercer has had a good season, but Trea Turner’s upside is far greater than Mercer’s, especially with Mercer a bottom-of-order hitter and Turner a top-of-order hitter.
Even if Turner couldn’t hack it at shortstop defensively, he could have been an asset as a 2B, allowing Josh Harrison to be utilized in the super-sub role he’s more geared towards. Turner would also be super handy if the Pirates ever had a need to spell a struggling CF or if they were interested in exploring trading said-CF in the offseason.
Every team has a player (or many) that they drafted and couldn’t sign originally, only to see them flourish with a different team a few years later. I suppose this is just a form of revisionist history, because there’s no guarantee that Trea Turner would have developed on the same path with the Pirates as a high school draftee as he did as a finished college product three years later. But it won’t stop me from daydreaming about how Turner could have been a benefit to the Pirates at the plate and in the field tonight.