It's now official that top prospect Trea Turner will not begin the 2016 season in the majors, as the shortstop was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse on Monday in a flurry of Nationals roster moves.
Reliever Rafael Martin was also optioned to Triple-A, while pitchers Aaron Laffey and Nick Masset, outfielder Tony Campana, infielder Scott Sizemore and catcher Jhonatan Solano were all sent to minor league spring training. That leaves 30 players in Nationals MLB spring camp.
Turner leaving the Nats solidifies Danny Espinosa as the favorite to start Opening Day at shortstop. Veteran Stephen Drew is also in camp, but he's expected to be on the Nats' bench.
Acquired in a trade with the San Diego Padres in December of 2014, Turner is considered the future starter at shortstop, but the Nationals said over and over this offseason and throughout spring that they felt he needed more time in the minors. Signing Drew to a one-year free agent deal this offseason gave them enough depth to be more patient with Turner.
The big question now becomes when Turner will be back with the team, as he not only played well this spring, he outperformed Espinosa. Turner hit .257/.341/.429 with 10 runs, seven steals and five walks in 21 Grapefruit League games. Espinosa has hit just .111/.200/.222 in 12 games.
Espinosa is, however, coming off a strong bounceback 2015 season, one that convinced the Nationals he was capable of playing everyday this year, at least on a temporary basis. Espinosa hit 13 homers and held a .719 OPS in 118 games in 2015. He is also a standout on defense.
If Turner isn't ready to be a full-time big leaguer, he certainly looks close. The 22-year-old was named the 11th best prospect in all of baseball by MLB.com this winter. He is one of the best young players in the Nationals' organization and is projected to start at shortstop for many years to come.
It may not be Turner's time quite yet, but it doesn't seem like it will take long before he rejoins the team in Washington this summer.