On the day they announced the promotion of their top pitching prospect to the big leagues, the Nationals also made an unconventional move that may be a precursor to a promotion of their top position player.
Trea Turner, an infielder throughout his amateur and minor league career, is starting in center field tonight for Triple-A Syracuse. And the 22-year-old figures to see significant action there in the next week, with the Nationals strongly considering him for use in the big leagues as an outfielder.
Turner began working out in center field three days ago with roving instructor Gary Thurman, who gave the green light for him to start a game there.
The thinking, from the organization's perspective: With shortstop Danny Espinosa and second baseman Daniel Murphy playing well but center fielders and leadoff men Ben Revere and Michael A. Taylor struggling, Turner could best help the Nationals right now in a new position."We still see him as an everyday shortstop for us in the future," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "The guys that we have at the positions that he plays are playing extremely well. We figured to get him in the big leagues sooner rather than later, we need to make him more versatile."
There has been vague discussion of Turner as an outfielder since he was acquired from the Padres last summer, but to date, the Nationals used him only at shortstop and second base. His natural athletic abilities, though, do make him a candidate for center field. And given the current needs of the club, the decision was made now to give it a try.
"Seeing him take balls off the bat, just goofing around in some batting practices, he's got quick-twitch muscles, he's got great first step in the infield," Rizzo said. "We think that with a little work, he could be a guy that we could put out in center field if we have to. It makes him more versatile, and gives the manager more options to put a really good offensive player in there that can run and help you in a lot of different aspects of the game."
Turner is hitting .304 with a .377 on-base percentage and 22 stolen bases in 24 attempts at Syracuse. Nationals leadoff men, meanwhile, enter tonight's game batting an major league-worst .205 with a .251 on-base percentage. That last mark is 67 points worse than the next-worst NL team (the Reds, whose leadoff hitters have a .318 on-base percentage).
"We feel that offensively he's major league ready, and defensively he's come a long way as a shortstop," Rizzo said. "Danny's playing extremely well at shortstop up here. We've got a full roster of really qualified, quality players at the big league level. But he's a guy that we would like to see here in the big leagues help us at the big league level. If we could make him more versatile and more valuable to us and play multiple positions, I think that just adds to his value."
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