In an unexpected move that injects further intrigue into a season that hardly seems able to hold more drama, the Nationals called up shortstop Trea Turner from Class AAA Syracuse on Friday afternoon. Baseball America rated Turner as the ninth-best prospect in baseball in its midseason rankings, and the second-best prospect in the Nationals system to Lucas Giolito.
The Nationals moved right-handed reliever Aaron Barrett to the 60-day disabled list to create room for Turner on the 40-man roster. They placed first baseman/outfielder Tyler Moore on the disabled list with a sprained left ankle retroactive to Aug. 19.
Turner was sitting in a movie, “Straight Outta Compton,” with his Syracuse teammates when his phone rang. He didn’t recognize the number, so he didn’t pick up. It kept ringing, so he finally answered. Chiefs manager Billy Gardner was on the other end, and asked Turner if he’d ever been to Washington D.C. He had, once, when he was younger. Gardner told him he was going back.
“It was actually a very good movie,” Turner said. “That made it a little bit better getting that news.”
A 22-year-old shortstop with plus-speed, the Nationals officially acquired Turner from the San Diego Padres June 14 — the player to be named in the deal that sent Steven Souza Jr. to Tampa Bay and Joe Ross to Washington, too. He began this season with Class AA San Antonio in the Padres organization, then played 10 games in Class AA Harrisburg before being promoted to Class AAA Syracuse. After going hitless in his first five games with the Chiefs, Turner adjusted. In 43 games since, he raised his average to .314 with a .353 on-base percentage, 59 hits and 14 stolen bases, lifted by a simple approach: “just enjoy the game like I always have.”
“When you try to take it as a job, it makes it a little bit harder. It makes the bad days a little bit rougher and the good days not so good,” Turner said. “I just try to go out there and have fun regardless of the result. Next day I go out there and try to take the same approach.”
That Turner joins the Nationals now, two weeks before rosters expand in September, qualifies as a surprise. The Nationals have a logjam of sorts in their middle infield, where Ian Desmond has shown signs since the all-star break of breaking out of a season-long slump, Anthony Rendon is still searching for his timing at the plate as he recovers from injury, and Danny Espinosa continues to seize opportunities with power and grit.
“It depends on need. It depends on where we’re at in games and how he can contribute to it,” Nationals Manager Matt Williams said. “With T-Mo and his ankle, we were short on the bench anyway, so we had to get somebody here. Trea gives us a lot of options. Middle infield guy. He’s got speed. He’s had a great year. Puts the bat on the baseball. So there’s a lot of opportunity for him. But it will depend on how that particular game plays out.”
Turner started at second base for the first time in his professional career this week, and said that while everything is different at second given the opposite side of the diamond, he said he trusts himself to play there in the majors if he has to. Williams and Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo also said they would feel comfortable putting Turner at second despite his limited experience there. Turner will see action over the next two weeks as one of four players on a short bench. He joins left-handed hitting Clint Robinson, Espinosa and Jose Lobaton there, significantly bolstering Washington’s speed.
“We felt Trea was going to be a September call-up anyways, and maybe this was a time to inject a little more speed and youth and athleticism into the ballclub,” Rizzo said. “We felt like it was an opportune time to take advantage of some of his skills.”
Rizzo added that Turner is a “contact bat with a lot of speed” who can play both middle infield spots. The Nationals do not have many hitters that fit that speed and contact mold, particularly with Denard Span injured.
“We’re gonna find opportunities to use his skill set in the best way that we can,” Rizzo said.
Turner will wear No. 7 with the Nationals. His jersey hangs in a locker between Moore and Werth, a locker over from current Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond, the man many believe Turner will replace someday.
“Being a middle infielder, it’s like a fraternity,” Desmond said. “Any time another guy gets called up, you’re obviously happy for him. Everything I hear is great. Sounds like he’s gonna help our club.”
After he addressed the media for the first time, someone pointed him to the field. He grabbed his glove.
“Here goes nothing,” he said, and headed out to the field to take ground balls.