Trea Turner's 2015 was a weird one, as he began in the San Diego Padres' farm system before officially joining the Nationals in June six months after he was traded, then made his MLB debut in August, weeks before many expected it to happen. Things in baseball often don't go as originally planned and Turner's first MLB call-up certainly fits that description.
But now Turner's bizarre year is over, as he moves forward in his career with 27 games of major league experience to pull from. The 22-year-old shortstop is excited for what the future holds after getting his first taste of the big leagues.
"It makes me want to work harder," he said. "I was told at N.C. State that freshman work the hardest because they are scared they are not gonna play. And I kind of feel that like that feeling again a little bit. I want to play as long as I possibly can at the highest level. I kind of have that feeling and I want to make sure I do everything I can to make that happen."
Turner is one of the Nationals' brightest young talents and will be given the opportunity to lock down a starting role in the near future. But whether that chance will come directly out of spring training is unclear.
What is clear is that the trade of Yunel Escobar to the L.A. Angels earlier this month is good for Turner's odds to start right away. Anthony Rendon now moves over to third base, his natural position. And, at least as of today, Turner and Danny Espinosa will vie for the starting shortstop and second baseman roles.
Both he and Espinosa are shortstops by trade and both voiced their preference to play there at last weekend's WinterFest.
"I mean, I would love to play short. I think it’s a little bit more fun and I’m more used to it but if they put me at second I’ll be very happy," Turner said. "I think in spring training you get a ton of reps. You get early work and extra work after and plenty during the day. I think I’ll get plenty of reps if [second base] is where they need me to play and I’ll eventually feel comfortable," he said.
Turner recorded only nine hits with 12 strikeouts in 40 at-bats in 2015 as he dealt with sparse playing time in addition to the system shock of facing major league pitchers for the first time. He is hoping for more consistency in 2016.
"I struggled a little bit in the beginning, getting an at-bat here or there. I think that’s really hard to do – pinch-hitting. It’s probably the hardest thing to do in sports in my mind. You don’t get frequent at-bats. Once I got a chance, I adjusted. But then they adjust right back. You gotta make sure you’re on top of it and know what they’re gonna throw at you... and just kind of execute as best as you can," he said.
Turner's best moments in 2015 involved his rare ability on the basepaths. Turner reached a top speed of over 22 miles per hour in August, according to MLB's StatCast. That's Billy Hamilton territory.
Lucky for Turner, that could come in handy with the Nationals' new manager, Dusty Baker, in charge. Baker has made it known he wants the Nats to play faster and be more aggressive on base. Only three MLB teams had less than the 57 steals the Nats recorded last season.
"I like hearing that. Obviously I think it’s something that has kind of been lost a little bit and is starting to come back now with all the moneyball and stats and what not," Turner said. "I think it helps me and I think I can help out in that category. So I’m excited for that and hopefully I can learn from [first base coach] Davey Lopes. As much as I can, I’d like to pick his brain. I haven’t got a chance to meet him yet but I’m looking forward to that."
This offseason Turner is working on gaining weight and building his stamina for the grind of a 162-game season. He did not play in the Arizona Fall League this year despite originally planning to. He said he was just flat-out exhausted.
"I felt tired. I ran a couple 40-yard dashes for fun in Philadelphia and I was kind of disappointed with my times. I think I should be running faster. I didn’t necessarily feel tired but I knew my body was tired just from the way I was moving around and hitting BP balls weren’t going as far," he explained.
As for gaining weight, Turner said it's a delicate balance trying to maintain his speed, which could end up being his best asset in MLB.
"I left probably 174, 175 and now I’m up to 180, 182. I’ve gained a few pounds and hoping to get to around 185 or so. Not that I have a goal weight-wise but I think that would help me strengthen. I think that will also benefit me as a player talent-wise, being able to drive the ball more and maybe be a little quicker and more powerful side-to-side and what not. I’ve been trying to do it but I also don’t want to gain too much weight and lose the speed. So that’s kind of a weird situation," he said.