Jim Callis

Turnbull turns year around with strong Fall League finish

Tigers' No. 12 prospect doesn't allow earned run for second straight start

Turnbull turns year around with strong Fall League finish

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Spencer Turnbull's second full pro season didn't go nearly as well as his first. After leading Tigers farmhands in ERA (3.01) and ranking fourth in wins (11) and strikeouts (106 in 116 2/3 innings) in 2015, he made just 12 starts this summer while dealing with a shoulder impingement and a strained oblique.

One of the benefits of the Arizona Fall League is that it allows injured pitchers to make up for lost innings, and Turnbull is hitting his stride with the Salt River Rafters as the season comes to a close. He didn't allow an earned run for a second straight start on Monday afternoon, twirling four scoreless innings in a 9-1 victory over the Scottsdale Scorpions.

"The Fall League has definitely been a good thing for me," said Turnbull, a right-hander drafted in the second round out of Alabama in 2014. "This year has been really frustrating, definitely one of the biggest tests of my life for sure. It's been a test of my character, a test of my faith."


While he has been pain-free in Arizona, Turnbull said he doesn't have all of his fastball velocity back, though he was effective working at 92-94 mph against the Scorpions. Not only has the AFL given him some much-needed development time, but it also has forced the Tigers' No. 12 prospect to do more than just try to throw his fastball by hitters.

"I'm learning how to pitch with a little less velocity," Turnbull said. "I'm sinking it and cutting it more than I used to rather than throwing heaters down the middle. There are a lot better hitters here than I saw in high Class A. It seems like there are a bunch of Double-A type all-stars here. My style has been to get ahead with my fastball, but you can't get away just throwing fastballs here."

Turnbull learned that lesson in the early going with the Rafters. He gave up two runs in three innings during his first start, then lost his next three outings. He has given up just one unearned run in eight innings over his last two starts and has one of the best groundout/airout ratios (4.0) in the league.

Turnbull's bigger-breaking slurve was his most effective strikeout pitch when he notched five whiffs against the Peoria Javelinas last Tuesday but was flat against Scottsdale. So he morphed it into a harder slider that sat at 85-87 mph, which he used to finish off each of his four whiffs against the Scorpions.

Salt River improved to 15-12-1 with the victory and remained one game ahead of the Mesa Solar Sox in the East Division with three games remaining. The Rafters can clinch a berth in Saturday's championship game with a win over the Solar Sox in Mesa on Tuesday. The loss dropped Scottsdale to 11-18, eliminating the Scorpions from the playoff race and clinching the AFL's worst record.

Braves prospects powered Salt River's offense. Second baseman Travis Demeritte went 2-for-3 with a double, triple, two walks, three runs scored and two more driven in. DH Dustin Peterson hit the game's lone home run, a two-run shot off an 81-mph fastball from submariner Tyler Rogers (Giants) in the seventh. According to Statcast™, Peterson's blast had a project distance of 410 feet and an exit velocity of 102 mph.

Former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow recorded his first multihit game in the AFL in a losing cause, delivering a pair of well-struck singles in his final two at-bats. After beginning the season by going 5-for-37 (.135), he has had five hits in his last 17 at-bats to improve his slash line to .185/.267/.222.

Jim Callis is a reporter for Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.