For Trea Turner, baseball is the easy part

VIERA, Fla. - Forgive Trea Turner if the 2015 season remains a blur in his mind. He did, after all, play at three different levels of professional baseball, wearing four different uniforms for two different franchises.

It all culminated with a six-week stint in Washington, Turner's first in the major leagues, in which he played in 27 games, dealt with the highs and lows of a pennant race, and got to be part of a no-hitter.

And what was the biggest thing he took away from the whole experience?

"Just how to be a professional," he said. "How to show up to the field and be ready. What time to get there. How to travel on the road. What to wear. Small things like that."

Trea-Turner-Throw-White.jpgWait, what? The biggest thing Turner took from his major league debut was what to wear on the road, not anything that took place on a baseball field?

"The game, for the most part, is the same," he said. "Obviously, it's a lot harder, and you've got to go against the best of the best. But the game's the same. The lifestyle's a little different, and I think that's an adjustment."

Which, really, tells you a lot about Turner - still just 22 and fewer than two years removed from college - and why the Nationals are so high on their shortstop of the future.

Baseball is the easy part for him. Or at least the easier part. It's how he was able to zoom through the minor leagues, advancing from a first-round pick out of North Carolina State in June 2014 to two levels of Single-A ball in the Padres system later that summer to the Arizona Fall League to Double-A San Antonio and Harrisburg in early 2015 (during which time his trade to the Nationals became official) to Triple-A Syracuse last summer to Washington in late August.

Each stop along the way, Turner thrived. Counting the AFL, he played for six different minor league clubs in a little over 12 months. And at five of those stops, he hit at least .314 with a .353 on-base percentage.

The numbers in D.C. weren't as spectacular - .225 batting average, .295 on-base percentage in 27 big league games - though take out his opening 1-for-12 slump and he hit a solid .276 with a .344 on-base percentage down the stretch.

Turner admits now he was a touch overwhelmed when he first got called up. But once he battled through that initial slump and began getting more opportunities to start, the comfort level increased and baseball became the easy part again.

"It was still a little weird for me," he said. "Getting used to playing in the big leagues is crazy. Everybody dreams about it. And then when it actually happens, it's a little weird. But I think playing every day settles the nerves, knowing that you're going to get more at-bats and you don't have to worry about playing the next day or pressing. When I started to play a little more, I started to relax."

Rare are the young ballplayers who can cruise through the minors like Turner and not look fazed along the way. But they do come along sometimes.

"Yeah, I've seen it in my experience with the higher-caliber players and prospects," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "When you speed through, that means you haven't hit any bumps in the road, you haven't failed along the way in order to have to go back. I've heard about Turner, big-time."

The decision Baker and the rest of the Nationals brass must make over the next five weeks is whether Turner truly is ready for the big time. The organization has spent the last year preparing for him to take over as its everyday shortstop, from the decision not to re-sign Ian Desmond to the decision not to pursue a big-name shortstop over the winter, instead going with holdover Danny Espinosa and modest acquisition Stephen Drew.

It's a decision Baker isn't prepared to consider just yet.

"Is (Turner) ready to be here?" he wondered. "Are we rushing him? Right now, I've got to give Espinosa a shot. But who knows? ... He's a dynamic player. I like what I see. Sometimes you may want somebody. And sometimes there may not be room at that point in time."

Turner, for his part, is trying not to think about the big picture. And he's trying not to think of himself as being in a competition with Espinosa and Drew, but rather with himself to keep getting better.

"I'm more worried about today's game," he said Monday morning, prior to the Nationals' intrasquad contest. "I want to play well today. That's kind of what I focus on: What's in front of me. I try to do everything I can the best I can. Try to be perfect, even though it's a hard game. When you struggle, you just try to see what you did wrong and move on. I think you can build a lot of confidence and get better if you view it on a day-to-day basis. What did I do yesterday, and how can I get better today?"

Besides, why spend time worrying about simple matters like baseball? Turner still is trying to learn everything he can about the other part of being a major leaguer: How to dress, where to eat, how early to report to the park.

"There's a lot to balance," he said. "In the minor leagues, you've got to worry about where you're living, how you're going to get out of the place you were living at, making friends with new teammates, getting comfortable with coaches. There's a lot of stuff. It sounds dumb, but I think it all plays a factor."

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