Nats want Turner to work on defense, leadership at Triple-A

JUPITER, Fla. - Trea Turner knew the cards were stacked against him to make the Nationals' opening day roster. So when the news came down Monday afternoon that he was being sent to Triple-A, the 22-year-old shortstop wasn't shocked.

That doesn't mean Turner wasn't disappointed to learn he'll be opening the season in Syracuse, especially after he got a taste of Washington and the big leagues late last season.

"I would assume that nobody ever wants to go back," he said. "You get spoiled a little bit. But it's part of the game. A lot of people go up and down. A lot of people I played with last year went up and down. Sometimes people stay, and you gotta do more work."

Trea-Turner-Throw-White.jpgThe Nationals want Turner to do some fine-tuning of his game in the minors, most notably in the field, where they'd like him to become a little more consistent and try to build up his throwing arm a bit.

"I can throw it harder if I want, it's just a matter of showing that," he said. "I don't think a lot of people need to show it all the time. I can do some other things. I try to be consistent. Sometimes when I throw as hard as I can I get a little wild. So I just need to work on that."

At the plate, Turner doesn't need to do much, aside from get more experience. He impressed this spring, hitting .250 with a .349 on-base percentage and seven steals in seven attempts.

Ultimately, though, Turner's biggest challenge in the minors this season will be more mental than physical. The Nationals want him to display more leadership qualities when he's at shortstop.

"We want him to be more assertive, more of a leader, more energy on the field," manager Dusty Baker said. "Because a shortstop's gotta have energy. Gives everybody else energy. Between the catcher and the shortstop, those are the leaders on the field."

Turner has been mostly a quiet presence around the Nationals clubhouse this spring, soaking in the knowledge of players significantly older than him. It's easy to forget he was playing at North Carolina State less than two years ago and played in only 185 minor league games before making his major league debut late last season.

"He's a very polite young man, very respectful," Baker said. "We've always been told that youth is supposed to be seen and not heard. But somewhere between a brash young rookie and a leader, there's a fine line in there. Right now, we're not asking him to do that on this club. We're asking him to do it where he's going to go play. And then bring it here to this club."

Turner, who will remain with the big league club through this weekend's exhibition games in Washington, said he appreciates Baker's message. And he understands the situation, recognizing he probably wasn't going to make the team out of spring training.

But he also knows the organization expects big things of him, and he expects to make an impact in D.C. soon enough.

"I'm competitive," he said. "Everybody is competitive. It's kind of a little bit of a loss in my eyes, but at the same time it's a long process. It's hard to stay focused on the long-term process when you're competitive every day."

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