Our Co-Founder, Jacob Turner, sat down with Baseball America’s Kyle Bandujo to talk through his journey in professional baseball.
Baseball, especially over the past 20 years, is a rapidly evolving sport. That’s reflected heavily in the career of Jacob Turner, who undoubtedly would’ve undergone a different experience in professional baseball had he been drafted just a few years later.
A right-handed pitcher from the Missouri prep ranks, Turner was Baseball America’s No. 5 overall prospect heading into the 2009 draft. A North Carolina commit, the academically-oriented Turner was viewed as a difficult sign—especially with Scott Boras as his advisor.
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The Tigers, picking ninth that year, weren’t ones to be scared off by a Boras-backed high school arm committed to North Carolina that looked tough to sign. Just two years prior they’d nabbed Rick Porcello 27th overall after bonus demands caused him to slide, signing him away from Chapel Hill with a $7M major league deal. After selecting Turner, the Tigers went to the Porcello playbook, convincing Turner to walk away from college in favor of a $5.5M big league deal.
Had he attended school, by the time Turner was once again draft-eligible in 2012, new draft rules were in-place that would’ve forbidden draftees signing a major league pact. His deal with Detroit put him on the 40-man roster, starting his option clock. If Detroit wanted to keep Turner without exposing him to waivers, he needed to be big league ready by roughly his 22nd birthday—the significance of which Turner hadn’t quite grasped.
“[I had] no idea. My agent told me that it was a big deal, but I was 18,” Turner said. “As far as how the options go, I’m sure they explained to me, but I didn’t look too deep into it.”
His early run with Detroit lived up to the No. 9 overall billing. Turner sat atop the Tigers’ Top 10 Prospects list from 2010-2012, and he made his big league debut a few months after his 20th birthday (and 33 days younger than Porcello had made his two years prior).
Along with draft rules, pitcher development and strategy was also different than present-day during Turner’s first few years in baseball. In the pre-spin rate era, pitchers were instructed to pitch off their fastball and derive weak contact; something Turner had early success with, despite not being a guy who missed a ton of bats.
Turner’s time in Detroit ended abruptly—a trade deadline deal in 2012 shipped him to Miami, where he followed a solid 2013 season with a disastrous 2014 year. Out of options already due to his initial big league deal, therefore unable to be sent to AAA to work out kinks without potentially being grabbed by another club on waivers, the Marlins dealt Turner to the Cubs, which began a stretch for Turner of bouncing around organizations, trying to find the form that made him a top prospect and solid big leaguer previously.
The tail end of Turner’s run in affiliated ball coincided with the pitching development revolution occurring throughout baseball. No longer were pitchers with lower spin fastballs (like Turner) throwing heat at the same rate as when he’d initially broken into pro ball, and pitchers who could spin the ball and miss bats were now highly sought after—leaving Turner in a situation where he knew he needed to adapt.
“In 2018, that offseason I went to Driveline,” Turner said. “My mission coming there was ‘Hey I need to strike out more guys, so what do I need to do to strike out more guys.’”
He added a splitter and worked to implement more vertical break to his fastball, and gave baseball one more run with a season in the KBO. Turner hung up his spikes following the 2019 season in Korea, ready to start a new chapter in his life. He now works in finance, and while his professional career was admittedly uneven, he doesn’t regret the rapid rise he signed up for when agreeing to a big league pact at 18-years-old.
“Ultimately what you want as a player, whether it’s in sports or in business or whatever it is in life, you just want the opportunity, and there’s so many guys in the minor leagues who just don’t get the opportunity,” said Turner. “By being put on the 40-man, you’re almost guaranteed that you’re going to get some sort of opportunity—and whether you’re able to capitalize on it in a quick enough amount of time is ultimately up to you.”
The original article appeared here https://www.baseballamerica.com/stories/jacob-turner-joins-from-phenom-to-the-farm-episode-46/
(Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)