Monday, April 25, 2016

Turner Could Solve Minnesota's Catching Dilemma

Photo Credit: Kim Klement- USA Today Sports
Minnesota had their anchor at catcher but tell the baseball gods your plan and they will laugh in your face.

Joe Mauer was locked into a long-term contract and he looked like he was on his way to a Hall of Fame catching career. There was a chance that Mauer could beat out the likes of Johnny Bench and Yogi Berra to be the best backstop of all-time. Those plans changed in recent years as Mauer's concussion related symptoms have moved him out from behind the plate.

The Twins found themselves in a little kerfuffle with their long-term catching plans. Kurt Suzuki was brought in to bridge the gap to some of the younger catching prospects in the organization. With Suzuki's aging body, the Twins traded former first round pick Aaron Hicks to the Yankees for catcher John Ryan Murphy.

Murphy has struggled in limited action this season. Through this weekend's games, he has three hits in 35 plate appearances and only one of those hits has been for extra-bases. Suzuki has fared a little better as he has gone 7-for-37 but four of his seven hits have gone for extra-bases. With the weak production from the current catching core, it's tough not to look to the future.

Stuart Turner was drafted by the Twins in the third round of the 2013 MLB June Amateur Draft from the University of Mississippi. With his college experience, the Twins have not been afraid to be aggressive with Turner. He has been younger than the competition at every stop except for rookie ball.

With Minnesota's aggressive approach, Turner has encountered some offensive struggles. At Fort Myers in 2014, he hit under .250 with a .698 OPS while getting on base 32.2% of the time. Those numbers dipped a little last season as he made the jump to Double-A. He still posted a .322 OBP but hit only .223 and slugged .306. These aren't exactly offensive numbers to write home about.

Turner has gotten high praise during his time in the system as a good game caller while being a strong defensive presence behind the plate. He's a leader on and off the field and that provides a lot of value to a club even if his bat never turned around... but what if his bat finally caught up to his defensive prowess?

The Twins sent Turner to the Arizona Fall League this past off-season and for the first time in his career, he has been asked to repeat a level to start 2016. The Twins could have been aggressive with him and sent him to Rochester but the organization thought it would be best for him to go back to Chattanooga. That decisions seems to be paying dividends so far.

Through this weekend's action, Turner was hitting .286/.432/.486 with four doubles and a home run. All of those numbers would put him on pace for career high totals. The most positive sign might be that Turner is doing this at Double-A in his age-24 season where he is roughly the same age as the competition.

This isn't a move that is going to happen in the next week or month but Turner is looking more and more like a long-term solution to the Twins catching woes. 

If Turner can continue to evolve into a catcher that can be more than a defensive first option, he can become a vital piece for the Twins as they head into a new era. When the Twins have went on World Series runs in the past, the catcher has always been a role player.

His defense, game calling, and leadership will continue to be strong. Turner can be that type of solid contributing role player as the Twins attempt to return to their World Series glory in the years to come.

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