On Monday afternoon, the Washington Nationals announced that they optioned Turner to Triple-A Syracuse, all but ensuring that the 28-year-old Espinosa will be the team’s Opening Day starter.
A former first-round pick in 2014, Turner was recently rated by Baseball America as Washington’s top position prospect and the No. 9 prospect in all of baseball. Prior to making his big league debut last season, the 22-year-old speedster, who was acquired from San Diego in December 2014 as part of a three-team trade, hit .322 with 52 steals in 185 minor league games. In 27 games with the Nationals following his late August call-up, Turner hit just .225 and posted a .294 on-base percentage.
Heading into the offseason, with the departures of starting shortstop Ian Desmond (via free agency) and starting second baseman Yunel Escobar (via trade to the Angels), Turner -- a natural shortstop who played both short and second after his promotion -- was supposed to compete with Espinosa for the starting shortstop gig in 2016. At the very least, he seemed like a good bet to make the big club. But over the winter, the Nationals signed veteran middle infielders Daniel Murphy, Stephen Drew and Brendan Ryan, a trio of moves that suggested the club wouldn’t mind giving Turner a little more time to build on a minor league résumé that includes just 48 games above Double-A.
Even though Turner is 7-for-7 in steals this spring and has a .766 OPS that’s nearly 300 points higher than Espinosa’s (.469), the truth is the Nationals can afford to be patient with him because A) in a lineup that’s oozing with offense, they don’t need a whole lot of production at shortstop; B) offseason trade acquisition Ben Revere has solidified the leadoff spot; and C) Espinosa is really good at the whole catching the ball thing. As a result, Turner finds himself headed to Syracuse.
“You know when you can play,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said when asked how Turner took the news. “He had a good attitude about it.”
Baker said Turner will play mostly shortstop at Syracuse, but might also get some time at second base.
Asked what he said to Turner, the 66-year-old Baker joked: “I can’t tell you everything I told him, cuz I can’t remember everything I told him.”