Trea Turner watched last year's Fall Stars Game on MLB Network from North Carolina State, where he was still a student. The event made an impression on him, and Turner set a goal to one day play in the Arizona Fall League.
Just a year later, Turner has made it to the AFL. The shortstop is on Surprise's taxi squad, meaning he only plays twice a week -- on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Still, he is happy to have reached the prestigious league so quickly.
"I'm just blessed to be able to have the opportunity to play in it," said Turner, the Padres' No. 5 prospect. "I'm going to try to make the most of it."
Turner has been in action this year since February, when N.C. State opened its season against Canisius. The Wolfpack had high expectations after reaching the College World Series in 2013 and with Turner and ace Carlos Rodon returning, but the team struggled in conference play and missed the NCAA Tournament. While the team's finish was disappointing, Turner overcame an early-season slump to earn All-America honors and win the Brooks Wallace Award, recognizing him as the top shortstop in the country.
The Padres made Turner the 13th overall selection in the First-Year Player Draft, 10 picks after the White Sox took Rodon. Turner began his professional career soon after in short-season Eugene. He again went through another slump, hitting .228/.324/.283 in 23 games, before righting himself after a promotion to Class A Fort Wayne.
Turner said he has learned from each of his slumps but the one he went through in Eugene was the most educational. It showed at Fort Wayne, where he hit .369/.447/.529 with four home runs and 14 stolen bases in 46 games.
Turner, ranked No. 96 on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list, said the biggest lesson he's learned in the Minor Leagues is the importance of attention to detail.
"The small things matter the most -- everyone's good here," Turner said. "It's what you do more consistently than the person next to you that's going to help you move up faster or beat the other team. If you can do the small things and try to be consistent with what you do, that's going to help you the most."
Now, Turner has one last opportunity to hone his game this year in the desert. As a taxi-squad member, he won't play in as many games as most of his teammates, but he said he's prepared to do whatever he can to improve this fall.
"I'm just trying to do everything I can to better my game, whether it's mentally or physically," Turner said. "I'm going to get out here and work as much as I can as much as they'll let me, and also learn from watching other people play and how they go about their business."
Padres hitters in the AFL
After starting the season with Triple-A El Paso, Jace Peterson was promoted to make his Major League debut in April and split the rest of the season between the two levels. He has proved to be a solid hitter since the Padres selected him 58th overall in the 2011 Draft, but he struggled in the big leagues, going 6-for-53 in 27 games. Peterson has mostly played shortstop in the Minor Leagues but was at second and third base in San Diego. With Surprise, he has played exclusively at second base.
Hunter Renfroe was the 13th overall pick in the 2013 Draft, and the outfielder is finishing an impressive first professional season in the AFL. Already he has added to his special year, winning the Bowman Hitting Challenge to kick off the fall. Renfroe's best tool is his power and he hit 21 home runs -- the second-most among Padres' Minor Leaguers -- between Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore and Double-A San Antonio.
Known for his top-of-the-scale speed, Mallex Smith swiped 88 bases in 120 games this season between Class A Fort Wayne and Lake Elsinore. The rest of his game is still developing, but the 21-year-old outfielder made strides this season. He profiles best as a leadoff hitter, and his speed allows him to cover a lot of ground in center field, even as he learns the intricacies of the position.
Padres pitchers in the AFL
A 26th-round pick in 2012, left-hander Brandon Alger took over the closer's role at Class A Advanced following a promotion for Trevor Gott (who was later traded to the Angels). Alger doesn't have overwhelming stuff but isn't afraid to attack hitters. His fastball sits in the low 90s, and his curveball and changeup give him effective weapons against right-handed hitters.
Right-hander Tayron Guerrero is one of the hardest throwers in the Padres' organization, capable of running his fastball up to 100 mph. He pairs it with a hard slider and occasionally mixes in a changeup. Exclusively a reliever, Guerrero earned a spot on the World roster at this year's SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game. The 23-year old Colombian native took a big step forward in his development this season but remains raw and has pitched just 13 2/3 innings above the Class A Midwest League.
Right-hander Justin Hancock was sidelined for two months this season due to a tender forearm, but he was able to get back on the mound for the second half and is back to throwing the hard fastball that first got him noticed at Lincoln Trail College in 2011. Hancock is at his best when he uses his 6-foot-4 frame to create a good downhill angle and throw the ball down in the zone.
Right-hander Burch Smith made his Major League debut in 2013, throwing 36 1/3 innings for the Padres. He seemed poised to take on a larger role with the club in 2014 until he was sidelined by forearm tenderness in April. He was limited to 5 1/3 innings in Triple-A but has returned to action in the desert. Smith's fastball sits in the low 90s with late movement that makes it difficult for hitters to square up. His changeup is his best off-speed offering.
Teddy Cahill is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tedcahill This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.