Saturday, April 10, 2010

First Round Picks: Jacob Turner

Baseball isn't like other sports. While most sports gain a majority of their best talent from the first round of the draft, that is hardly true in baseball. First round draft picks however remain a key component of how franchises are built, largely because that is where the greatest amount of Major Leaguers come from. Given the compensation system that is now in place, teams also have the ability to gain extra draft picks when their players are signed away by another team. Stockpiling those first round draft picks is often the quickest and easiest way to breath new life into a franchise - provided the scouting is good.

Last year our five AL Central teams combined to take just seven players in the first round, and first round compensatory picks. Two each for the White Sox and Twins, and just one each for the Tigers, Royals, and Indians. I'll be breaking down all seven over the next few days to give fans of those teams a better idea of what tools their prospects have, where their prospects are at, what they'll eventually do, and when they'll start making an impact at the big league level.

Jacob Turner, Tigers, 9th:

Scouting report: 6'5" 210lbs, R/R - A perfect pitchers build.

There are conflicts about fastball velocity. While some say he can hit 98, he's been observed at a high of 96, and he works consistently at 93-95. These were high school speeds so it's perfectly possible that with instruction those velocities could increase or decrease somewhat as his mechanics are tweaked.

His primary secondary offering is a curve that comes in at 76-78 with good depth, but like most high school pitchers he's going to need to improve the tightness of the pitch as it tends to sail and drop, as well as his release point, which is still inconsistent. In the video it's easy to spot the curve well before it breaks simply by his inconsistent release point and the pitch's bulge.

Turner has a compact, lazy delivery that lends itself well to relatively easy repeatability and consistent location. I like that he doesn't over-load in his windup, he simply gets tall, finds his balance point, and drives. He does a good job staying closed with hips, then unloading quickly, and powering through his delivery. That said, there are two red flags I see right away. One, he's crossing over with his plant foot, instead of comping straight though. This is bad for a couple reasons. First of all, it means he isn't maximizing his rotational torque. Secondly, he's increasing his injury risk by creating a more violent follow through. Lastly, his arm angle, which is a bit of an extreme 3/4 is violent, and there is some cause for injury concern given his repertoire.

The fact that Turner is able to generate such great velocity without a huge stride means he's able to stay very tall through his delivery, but he detracts from that by releasing so far outside. Ideally, the Tigers coaching staff can work with him to get him to better utilize his height and pitch with greater angle, allowing him to decrease injury risk and increase ground ball rates. He doesn't need drastically change his slot, just clean it up and maximize it's potential.

At just 19 years old , Turner has the potential to develop into a top-of-the-rotation pitcher, but he's got quite a bit of work to do. I discussed a couple of them; cleaning up his delivery, finding a consistent release point, and tightening his curve. He's also going to need to develop a changeup to better combat lefties at the Major League level. In pushing Turner directly into A-Ball, while completely bypassing the rookie league all-together, the Tigers are giving Turner a huge vote of confidence and putting him on a very aggressive developmental track.

Though one start a Low-A West Michigan, Turner has rewarded their confidence by throwing five scoreless innings, allowing just two hits, and no walks, while striking out seven. I'd mention that the Midwest league is definitely a pitchers league, but when you're not allowing any hits to begin with, it generally doesn't make any difference. It's likely that Turner will dominate A ball, if only because he should be able to overpower hitters who simply aren't prepared to deal with his fastball. The real tests will come as he reaches AA and AAA where the hitters are more refined, more capable of taking advantage of his flaws, and where most everyone can turn around a mid-90s mph fastball.

I'm not quite prepared to put Turner on as aggressive of a time-line as others - I think he's going to need a lot of work and expect he'll struggle quite a bit in the higher levels of the minors. But if everything goes well, I could see him potentially debuting in late 2011, and probably by early 2012. I think a lot of Tigers fans want to compare him to another recent hard-throwing, fast rising pitcher, Rick Porcello. The huge difference between Porcello and Turner is that Porcello features a dominant sinker, something Turner lacks.

If Turner can clean up his mechanics, avoid injury, and develop a third pitch he can use to get lefties out, he should develop into a top-end starter and he has ace potential. But, like I've said throughout this piece, he's like most high-school pitchers. He simply has a lot of work to do to reach that considerable potential.

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