It's no secret the Nationals have an enormous hole to fill in the middle of their lineup following the departure of Anthony Rendon. And the Nationals don't have to look far to find a player more than capable of filling in those shoes.
Former Atlanta Braves pitcher and Hall of Famer John Smoltz believes shortstop Trea Turner is the perfect player to slide down in the order to fill that void, and then some.
"I think he will be in the MVP conversation for years to come," Smoltz told the Nationals Talk podcast.
Turner had a solid season in 2019 (especially considering he played most of the season with just nine healthy fingers), but the Nationals hope their shortstop can make a jump in 2020 to even greater heights.
With Rendon gone, there has been some talk of moving Turner down in the order from the leadoff spot to the No. 3 hole. Moving down in the lineup could be beneficial for No. 7, who would have more opportunities to drive in runs while having the protection of budding superstar Juan Soto hitting in the cleanup spot right behind him.
The Nationals like having Turner in the leadoff spot, especially with his speed on the base paths. Turner stole 35 bases a season ago despite playing in just 122 games. Should he stay healthy for the entire season in 2020, stealing 50 or more is certainly a possibility.
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Smoltz believes Turner's speed can allow him to stand out among other stars, especially with the number of stolen bases continuing to decline across the sport.
"He's a guy that can run," Smoltz said. "I love the fact that he's still running, still stealing bases even though stealing bases is a lost art in our game."
Washington added second baseman Starlin Castro this offseason, and the four-time All-Star went on an incredible stretch at the plate during the second half of the 2019 season. Castro also has experience hitting leadoff, and could do such for the Nationals if they want to move Turner down into the order. Outfielder Victor Robles could also be another option in the top spot of the order.
For Turner to emerge as an MVP candidate, he'd likely have to improve his power numbers. The 26-year-old has demonstrated power ability in the past but has never hit over 20 home runs in a season.
The shortstop would likely need to have a season where he hit 30 or more home runs with 100 RBIs in order to truly be in the MVP race, and Smoltz believes he has the ability to do that.
"Turner is one of my favorite players," he said. "As a broadcaster, to actually see what he's capable of doing if he stays healthy, he has so many skillsets. He's got power and plays a premium position."
Defensively, Turner has shown flashes of being a Gold Glove-caliber defender, but the advanced metrics don't necessarily support that. Should the shortstop become more consistent defensively, his natural abilities will allow him to become one of the best at his position.
There's a clear path to Turner becoming one of baseball's best in 2020, now it's just up to the shortstop to make the leap.
"When you talk about Mr. Turner at shortstop, he's a huge piece and a star for the Washington Nationals," Smoltz said.
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