ERIE, Pa. — Erie Seawolves starting pitcher Jacob Turner enters the 2011 season as the top prospect in the Detroit Tigers organization, according to Baseball America. If his Opening Day start — six innings, two hits, no runs, one walk and nine strikeouts in his Double-A debut — is any indication, he might start his 2012 campaign in the Tigers starting rotation.
Turner, just 19 years old, was kind enough to give me a few minutes of his time during my recent visit to Jerry Uht Park. Here’s how the conversation went:
Mike Ashmore: You got selected with the ninth overall pick in the 2009 Draft. Take me back to that day, was that like for you?
Jacob Turner: “Obviously, it was real exciting. It was the culmination of a lot of hard work. I remember that day I was nervous, but excited at the same time. When I got drafted, it was an awesome experience.”
Ashmore: You got a reported $4.7 million signing bonus at the time….did you end up getting anything special with that?
Turner: “Not really. I’ve just kind of been living my life. I already had a car. I haven’t really done anything extravagant.”
Ashmore: How beneficial was it to finally get that first full pro season under your belt last season, especially making the transition to the Double-A level this year?
Turner: “Being able to have a full year under your belt and just knowing what you’re getting into helps. Going from throwing every seven days like in high school to every five days here and things like that. Definitely having that one year under your belt makes a big difference.”
Ashmore: You come into the season rated as Baseball America’s top prospect in the Tigers organization. Does something like that matter to you?
Turner: “It’s nice that people say that kind of stuff, but the main goal is to try to get to the big leagues. If you’re a prospect, you haven’t done anything yet. It’s nice that people say that, but every day you’ve got to out there and prove yourself.”
Ashmore: Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see your Double-A debut, but it certainly seems like things went very well based on the numbers…how you would you describe how things went?
Turner: “It went well. I felt comfortable coming into this season, I felt like I had a good spring. I think it just kind of continued on from that. Obviously it was a good start to the year to get the win.”
Ashmore: Fans at Waterfront Park won’t be able to see you until Erie comes into town in July…what kind of pitcher should they expect?
Turner: “I’m more of a power guy, I like to work off my fastball. I throw fastball, curveball and changeup.”
Ashmore: You’re in 19 and in Double-A…not a whole lot of guys who can say that. Has that hit you yet?
Turner: “I don’t really think about it like that. I think the other guys just accept you for who you are, it doesn’t matter if you’re 19 or you’re 30. You’re just another guy on the team, so that’s been great.”
Ashmore: For lack of a better way of putting it, do some of the guys give you (crap) for being that young or getting that kind of bonus?
Turner: “They’ll razz you every once in a while about getting the big bonus. But that’s just part of it. They’re just having fun with you. Obviously, we’re all teammates and we have a good camaraderie together.”
Ashmore: Goals for this season?
Turner: “I’m not a big goalsetter, but I figure if I go out there and work as hard as I can inbetween starts, everything on the field will take care of itself.”
Ashmore: A lot of young pitchers in the Tigers organization made it to the big leagues rather quickly…do you have any sort of set timetable as to when you think you’ll be ready to join them?
Turner: “I just kind of leave that up to the Tigers, the front office. They’ve done a great job with developing pitchers like Verlander and Porcello. They got to the big leagues fast, which is great. I think when they think the time is right and I’ve proven myself, that’ll happen. But until then, I’ve got to keep working hard and trying to get better.”
Ashmore: You got to be around guys like Verlander, Porcello and so on when you were at big league camp. Was there anyone specifically who helped you out while you were up there?
Turner: “All the starters in spring training helped me. From working on different grips with my changeup to just mentality on the mound to just going about your business on and off the field, all those guys up there helped me a lot. Being around them for two years now, that’s definitely helped me going into this season.”
Ashmore: What do you feel like you still need to work on while you’re down here?
Turner: “Probably the biggest thing is just consistency, consistency with all my pitches. Making sure I’m throwing strikes with everything from the get go and I think that’s the biggest thing between a minor leaguer and a major leaguer is the consistency. Those guys can throw it any place they want, and that’s where I’m starting to get to.”