Nationals shortstop Trea Turner made his major league debut about this time in 2015. Turner was 22 and went 0-for-2 against the Brewers. His double play counterpart five seasons later, 20-year-old second baseman Luis García, made his major league debut four days ago.
Third baseman Carter Kieboom made his debut last April at 21. Juan Soto, who plays behind Turner in left field, made his debut in May 2018 at 19. In center field, Victor Robles made his debut in September 2017 at 20.
All around Turner are players that made their big league debuts at a younger age than he did. Does that make Turner uncomfortable with so many guys around him that have not played as many major league baseball games?
Not at all, he said. It’s actually a plus, because of their elite talent level.
“It’s weird,” Turner said during a recent Zoom conference call. “I finally got used to playing with Juan, even though he’s still 21. But then the next one and the next one and the next one - we just got a bunch of guys down there that are really good baseball players and can help us out at this level. It doesn’t matter how old they are, they can play. It’s fun playing with them. It’s fun watching them learn. I enjoy the energy they bring. They’ve done great job so far. They got to keep improving, keep moving forward and we will win some ballgames.”
Turner is not fazed with who he throws the ball to, or receives the ball from, at second base. Whether it’s Brian Dozier, Asdrúbal Cabrera, Howie Kendrick, Starlin Castro or García, it’s not a big deal as long as they make sure they practice and communicate before they get on the field.
“I’ve always said, I feel like every year, I kind of have a different guy for the most part,” Turner said. “I have always said we’re professionals. We know kind of what to expect. Obviously, a little experience helps in a sense you just know where the ball is coming from and how they deliver the baseball to one another. But for the most part, if you hit each other in the chest, you are going to turn more double plays.”
Manager Davey Martinez agrees. But he also knows that for any infield to be cohesive and smooth, players have to have time together to grow that relationship. Right now, that focus is Turner getting on the same page with García and Kieboom.
“It’s based on conversation with Trea and García and everybody else that plays second base,” Martinez said on a recent Zoom conference call. “He always has these conversations with everybody, even in the infield. I remember him talking to Carter Kieboom, because he plays next to him, about where he plays for the shift, where he thinks Carter should play, and he’s constantly helping him out there. It’s really nice, and it’s a tribute to where he is now in his career.”
Martinez said credit goes to Turner because he is now the man that carries the torch as the veteran. With the departure of Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman opting out of the 2020 season, Turner has logged the most games in the Nationals infield, so he knows what to do. García and Kieboom are looking to him for where they should play on the field and where he likes to receive the ball.
“He truly feels better and he feels comfortable playing shortstop,” Martinez said. “I don’t think it matters who plays second base with him - he just understands he has to have these conversations. Because when you turn double plays and guys throw the balls to you, (they) got to know where you want to receive the ball. He asks García, ‘Hey, where do you want me to throw the ball, where do you feel most comfortable in double plays?” and constantly communicate with one another.”
Turner remembers those days in 2015 and 2016 when he was getting acclimated to playing shortstop, second base and center field with new teammates. It takes time to build that camaraderie. That’s what he wants to build with García. More games together will help.
“Him and Juan and Carter, they play baseball and they know where to go with the ball, what decisions to make,” Turner said. “Obviously, they’ll make mistakes here and there, but they learn quick. You can see from Luis that he’s made a lot of good plays already and it’s just the natural instinct he has, and sometimes you can’t teach that.
“Sometimes it takes a lot of experience with these guys. At a young age, they have learned a lot and they can play. We are going to expect that out of them. He’s been good for us so far so he’ll continue that.”
But Turner is also quick to point out, even playing alongside these younger 20-somethings, the Nats are still a veteran team at other spots.
“I am still in the middle,” Turner said. “We got a pretty veteran team for the most part, but the guys that aren’t veterans are very, very young. I am one of the few in the middle. Some days I feel old, and sometimes I try to go with the young guys and be a little more energetic. I think it’s good thing. You can feed off of both sides, the experience on one side and the energy of the young guys. I will play both sides.”
So, what is it like for García to play every day as a second baseman in the big leagues at such a young age? At 20, Turner was still at North Carolina State. Can Turner, now 6-foot-2, 185 lbs., picture himself at that age playing baseball at this level?
“I’m like a third of the size of Luis at 20 years old, so I would’ve said no shot,” Turner said with a smile. “They are big, strong experienced guys. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say they should be there. Me personally, I would’ve said no, not for me. But you see guys come up and put the barrel on the ball and make plays in the field, so it doesn’t surprise me one bit.”