Floundering Fish: Jacob Turner Looks Lost at Triple-A

Turner lost command of the strike zone during camp and has yet to get it back. Image: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

When the Detroit Tigers and Miami Marlins consummated a deadline deal last July it was the classic mid-season baseball trade. Detroit, a team headed for the World Series, added a pair of veterans and Miami brought in three prospects, including right hander Jacob Turner; a guy widely recognized as a Top-15 prospect in the game by multiple outlets.

The deal showed immediate dividends for the Marlins in 2012 with catcher Rob Brantly and lefty Brian Flynn both performing well, Turner was the real story. After dominating in five starts at Triple-A New Orleans after the deal, Turner was brought to the big leagues and posted a sterling 3.38 ERA and 0.984 WHIP in seven starts for the Fish. He walked just nine hitters in 42.2 innings of work.

So far in 2013, however, things haven’t gone as planned for the Marlins or for their prized hurler.

Turner was all but assured a place in the 2013 rotation both based on his performance last season and simply based on the lack of experienced starters around him. Amazingly enough though, Turner didn’t make the team in Spring Training. He labored through four Grapefruit League starts that spanned a mere 13 innings in total. During that time, Turner managed only five strikeouts, but walked nine hitters and posted a 9.69 ERA.

Back at New Orleans to start the season, things haven’t gone much better for the former ninth overall selection of the 2009 draft.

While coming through the Tigers system, control was never an issue for Turner. While his strikeout totals didn’t blow you away, he did impress with his ability to limited walks. Something happened over the Winter, it seems, that has caused Turner to take a large step backward. As Marlins manager Mike Redmond told the Miami Herald back in March:

“We’ve laid it out and made it very clear that we see him in our plans pitching in this rotation, but he’s got to go down and pound the strike zone and work on his command. When he does that, he’ll be back.”

What Turner has done so far is anything but pound the zone.

In four starts for the Zephyrs, Turner has yet to show anything other than a lost pitcher. He’s allowed an alarming number of baserunners in each of his four outings and lately his command seems to be getting worse, not better. In his last start, a six-inning outing at Round Rock, Turner struck out four, but yielded six hits and four runs (three earned) while walking three. That doesn’t sound all that bad until you also factor in the pair of hit batsmen and the balk he committed.

So far this season, Turner has allowed 23 hits and eight walks in just 17.1 innings pitched. His WHIP of 1.788 is staggering when contrasted to the sub-1.00 effort he had at the big league level just a handful of months ago. As is often the case with pitchers who are constantly falling behind, Turner is faced with the decision of either having to give in to the hitter or risk another free pass. When he’s chosen to given in, PCL hitters have made him pay. Already the still-just-21-year-old righty has allowed four home runs which is a rate triple the highest of his minor league career to this point.

Turner is pitching tentatively, which is no way to make a living on the mound. This is the kind of regression that many feared when Turner was rushed through the Tigers organization before being traded away. Often when a young pitcher gets knocked around for the first time, they can lose a bit of confidence and wind up getting gun-shy with the strike zone. While Turner did not have success in his few Major League appearances with the Tigers, the work he did for the Marlins at the end of 2012 would suggest anything but a case of a pitcher losing confidence upon reaching the highest level.

Of course, it could also be that a minor delivery flaw lead to some control issues and it was those issues during camp that have manifested themselves as the season has begun.

Turner is still very young and still highly regarded. A bad start at Triple-A might very well be just that. But the important numbers are trending in the wrong direction and there is reason to be at least a little concerned about Turner’s development going forward.