Raise your hand if you spent your Friday night rolling solo to a minor league baseball game. No one? Just me?
The bad news is that I don’t have a lot of friends in Ohio who care about baseball, let alone going to a Low-A game in late August to check in on a few prospects. The ones I do know would have wanted to leave after finding out Clint Frazier wasn’t going to be in the lineup for the Lake County Captains.
The good news is that I didn’t let that stop me from trekking across town to Eastlake to check in on the Padres Low-A affiliate Fort Wayne TinCaps for the second time this season. With a week before the season ends, it was my last chance to check out Padres first round draft pick Trea Turner before he’s promoted.
The verdict: he’s really good.
Turner has been nothing short of spectacular since joining the TinCaps on July 13th. He had been pretty terrible up to that point in short-season Eugene, but he’s now put up 37 games of ridiculous excellence against better competition, so I think we can all agree to let that slide.
4 home runs
13 stolen bases
He’s recorded at least one hit in 32 of his 37 games, has 22 multi-hit games, 9 games with 3 hits or more, and has 18 extra base hits in 154 at bats. He was so good that he made 3 straight Baseball America Prospect Hot Sheets, on July 18th, July 25th, and headlined as the hottest prospect in baseball on August 1st.
What struck me about Turner even before the game started was how fresh and loose he looked. A lot of young players at this point in the season, especially the kids who are in their first season of pro ball, are pretty much toast and playing the season out. They’re playing their hardest but there’s no gas left in the tank. I saw a few of those guys on Friday night, but not Trea Turner, who even as a visiting player chatted with a few fans and obliged an autograph seeker before the game.
In his first at bat on Friday, leading off the game against Captains hard-throwing 20 year old starter Mitch Brown (who also started the game I attended earlier this season and is having a strong season after a disappointing 2013), Turner had a tough time catching up to Brown’s fastball. Still, he fouled a pitch 320 feet down the RF line early in the count, and a couple pitches later straightened one out just enough to scrape over the wall in right for a lead-off home run.
Turner’s next two at bats against Brown weren’t as great. He couldn’t catch up to Brown’s fastball and struck out in his 2nd at bat, and then grounded out a couple innings later. Brown was strong over 6 innings, striking out 8 and allowing just the one run. Through 6, it was 8-1 Captains, as TinCaps starter Ronald Herrera, acquired in the Kyle Blanks trade earlier in the year, got rocked early and often and the TinCaps had mustered just 5 hits.
The TinCaps would rally! I knew there was a reason I stayed to the finish. Turner singled sharply up the middle against reliever Luis DeJesus in his fourth at bat. In the 9th, Turner muscled a broken bat single to left off lefty reliever Wander Beras and eventually scored as the TinCaps put the go-ahead runner on. The rally would fall just short, as the Captains held on for an 8-7 victory. I didn’t win the 50/50 raffle either.
Trea Turner looks younger than he is. He’s 21, but he looks younger than guys like Jake Bauers and Josh VanMeter, who are both just a year out of high school. He’s very thin, and building muscle while maintaining his plus speed and range at shortstop (he DH’d on Friday) will be something he’ll need to do as he makes his way through the system.
Scouts talk about his long swing, and he is striking out quite a bit (over 22% of his plate appearances). He could have trouble as he faces more pitchers with plus velocity. What I saw though was a loose and relaxed approach at the plate, showing very fluid hips and good bat speed, and the ball exploded off his bat. His home run was impressive, but it was the single up the middle that really made me see how hard he hits the ball.
Turner is taking the same path through the minors as 2013 first rounder Hunter Renfroe. He started in Eugune after signing, moved up to Fort Wayne after 100 plate appearances, and then started this season at Lake Elsinore. Turner will start 2015 with the Storm, so make sure you check him out while you can. I’m glad I did.
The only other TinCaps player who stood out on Friday night was outfielder Nick Schulz, who went 4-5 with a double and a long home run. His only blemish was a strike out to end the game with the tying run on 2nd. Schulz is an interesting story, as he was signed this Spring out of the independent Frontier League after going undrafted in 2013 out of San Jose State. He’s 6’3″, 220 pounds, and while he’s old for the level, he’s hitting for high average in Fort Wayne and sporting an .860 OPS at the level.
The Vocal Minority posts on Mondays. That we attend low-level minor league baseball games on the same Friday night may be coincidence, but it also may be telling of why we’re blogging partners. Follow us on Twitter here and here.