MLB.com Columnist

Bill Ladson

Turner's tools make him Nats' prospect to watch

Shortstop will start season in Triple-A to work on defense

Turner's tools make him Nats' prospect to watch

VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals shortstop Trea Turner was summoned into manager Dusty Baker's office on Monday afternoon. Turner, who is considered the second-best prospect in the Nationals' organization according to MLB Pipeline, was informed that he was going to start the season with Triple-A Syracuse.

Turner, 22, was competing against Danny Espinosa for the starting shortstop job, but Baker felt Turner needed to improve his defense and wanted him to be more vocal on the field. To the skipper, shortstop is one of the most important positions on the diamond.

"He's a young player. He's still learning how to play," Baker said. "One thing that [bench coach] Chris Speier and I told him, we want him to be more assertive, more of a leader, more energy on the field. … A shortstop [must] have energy. [It] gives everybody else energy. Between the catcher and the shortstop, those are the leaders on the field.

"Everybody wants to rush this kid. Also, Chris had him work on his footwork, in order to strengthen his arm. That's a big position. That is a huge position because you're in every play. You can't take any plays off. Everything's footwork. Whether you're dancing, hitting, pitching -- I don't care what -- everything's footwork."

Turner plans to go to Syracuse with a good attitude. He didn't feel overmatched this spring, but he feels things will improve once the regular season gets underway. Turner will continue to be with the big league team for the rest of the week until it's time to join Syracuse on Sunday.

Turner's triple in the 8th

"I get to play every day [in Syracuse], make the most of it, have fun. I'm going to enjoy the last few days I have up here," Turner said.

Turner has been in professional baseball since 2014, when he was selected by the Padres in the first round of the 2014 Draft. Six months later, Turner was part of a three-team trade that sent outfielder Steven Souza Jr. to the Rays, Wil Myers to the Padres and right-hander Joe Ross to the Nationals. Because Turner was drafted in '14, he wasn't eligible to join the Nationals until June of last year.

Once he joined the Nationals, they found out he has a work ethic that's second to none. Turner is one of the first players to arrive at the ballpark and is quickly in the cage. No wonder he is one of the best hitters in the system. In his short time in the organization, Turner hit a combined .321 with three home runs and 19 RBIs for Double-A Harrisburg and Syracuse.

"It's a matter of getting playing time and getting experience," Nationals hitting coach Rick Schu said. "He definitely has all the tools. The ball comes off his bat."

But what has impressed Baker the most this spring his Turner's speed. Numerous times, Turner hit routine ground balls to infielders and beat them out for base hits or made the infielders rush their throws for errors while trying to make the play at first base.

"The No. 1 thing is his speed, and speed kills. That's something the game doesn't have much of," Baker said. "When you have speed, it makes [the opponent] make mistakes he wouldn't normally make."

When will Turner get back to the big leagues? It will depend some on Espinosa's performance, some on the team's needs and some on what Turner himself shows at Triple-A. Any way it shakes out, it would not be surprising to see Turner in a Nationals uniform by the end of 2016.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.