Nationals

Nationals

Every sport has its anomalies. There are the point guards in basketball that can jump out of the gym, the big men that can run the floor and shoot from three. In football, the lumbering pass-rusher who can step back in coverage, or the cornerback who can level a tight end; those are rare.

In baseball, players come in all shapes and sizes, and there are plenty of outliers: the short power pitcher, the tall shortstop, Bartolo Colon.

Trea Turner, for instance, is not big by any measure relative to his teammates in the Nationals' clubhouse. He stands around 6-foot-1 and weighs around 185 pounds. He's built for speed and the numbers back it up. 

He doesn't pass the eye test for power hitters and has never been a real slugger at any level. He hit 20 homers total in three years in college and just 19 in 268 minor league games.

What Turner has been able to accomplish at the big league level has essentially come out of nowhere. On Friday night, he clubbed two home runs, including a walk-off bomb to beat the Phillies in the bottom of the ninth. He's slugging .561.

How does that make sense? According to Turner, it shouldn't be surprising at all.

"You guys are going to be way more surprised than I am," Turner said. "I'm not a power lifter or anything like that, but I feel like I'm stronger than I look. It's a matter of mechanics at the plate. I think the strength is there, it's just a matter of making your swing better and squaring up the ball."

 

Okay, sure. But Turner now has eight homers in 52 MLB games this season. That's after hitting six in 83 games at Triple-A Syracuse. Now, this really doesn't make sense.

Or, does it?

"I've been thinking about that and I think there's so many factors that people really don't put enough emphasis on. You've got a little bit better ball up here, the bats are better; a lot of people argue that. Stadiums are better as in there's less wind with all the structures up. And you play in some tough places in the minor leagues. Syracuse specifically and I think even San Antonio, [the parks] I played in are some of the worst hitting ballparks for home run-wise. 

"And then I think for me personally I attribute a lot to learning my swing. You play every day and I think if you put a lot of effort into each and every session, swing, whatever you want to call it, you can learn stuff. I feel like in the last month and a half I learned how to control some things, how to make adjustments a lot quicker. I think that needs to happen up here or else they'll expose you real quick."

Clearly, Turner has put a lot of thought into his hitting and the hard work has paid off. Turner's walk-off was his first in a long, long time. Since Little League, in fact.

"Walkoff bomb? Never. I think I've only had one walk off hit and it might have been when I was like nine or 10 years old. It was a basehit in the six hole, like a ground ball, and I remember getting to first base jumping up and down because I think there was [kid] on third and he ended up scoring… this one's a little bit better."

That doesn't mean he hasn't thought about it, of course.

"Trust me, I think about it every single time I get the opportunity, like 'this is going to be it.' I think a couple nights ago in that extra inning game I had an at-bat and I was like 'alright this is going to be it, this is going to be it.'

Turner's power is just part of the equation. He's now hitting .345 with 39 runs, 21 steals and a .926 OPS. On top of that, he's playing solid center field.

The only wonder is how the Nats kept this guy in the minors so long.

"I was told that he would do that," manager Dusty Baker said. "[Assistant GM] Bob Boone and [GM Mike Rizzo] and [assistant GM] Bob Miller and the minor league coaches that had him, they said that he was going to give our team a jolt. And I remember that Delino DeShields had him in the Fall League and he told me that he was an impact player. I trust Delino's eyes and his expertise. 

 

"Our people upstairs, I had to go along with it, because we were struggling in that position. We were struggling in center field and we were struggling at the leadoff spot. We kept him down there long enough to mature because he hadn't played that much. Everybody was hollering that he should have been up here sooner, but I disagree. I think we left him down there long enough to get his confidence and to fine tune his skills."

The Nats didn't get Turner full-time this year until July 10. But in the time since, he's been arguably their best player. Turner's only 23, but he's been leading the charge for one of the best teams in baseball.

The superlatives have been aplenty throughout the last few months, but perhaps no one put it better than starter Tanner Roark did after Friday night's win:

"He’s perfect."

Well said.

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