Tigers nab prep workhorse Turner
Missouri right-hander has parallels to Porcello
The Tigers went back to the high school pitching ranks for their first pick in the First-Year Player Draft on Tuesday, selecting right-hander Jacob Turner out of Westminster Christian Academy in St. Louis with the ninth overall pick. But while the comparisons to Rick Porcello will continue, Turner's game certainly stands out on its own.
Turner, a 6-foot-5, 205-pound workhorse pitcher, fits the kind of profile the Tigers covet. His power arm consistently fires fastballs in the mid- to upper-90s along with a solid curveball and a changeup he added to his arsenal in the last couple years.
That power arsenal produced an impressive round of statistics during Turner's high school career. He finished his high school season with a 7-2 record and an 0.60 ERA, striking out 113 batters over 58 1/3 innings with 13 walks. Among the individual games was a one-hit, 18-strikeout performance. Turner spent last summer on the U.S. under-18 national team.
The right-hander caught the Tigers' attention in the spring and maintained it through much of the prep season. While Detroit scouted plenty of talent in preparation for the big pick, Turner always seemed to stay at or near the top of the list.
"We've been following Jacob since last year, all through the summer, the showcases, as well as this spring," said Tigers scouting director David Chadd. "Obviously, as you know, we have a profile in this organization and a philosophy, and he certainly fits that profile."
Among the high school ranks, many saw Turner the same way. Several publications ranked him among the top prep hurlers available. As it turned out, Turner was the third high school pitcher selected after Matthew Hobgood and Zach Wheeler went fifth and sixth overall, respectively.
Turner's rise began in his underclassman seasons. He was a freshman and sophomore part-time closer on a pitching-deep Westminster team that reached the state's final four. As much as his 90-mph fastball, his mettle impressed coach Rick Van Gilst.
"Early on, he showed he had a little extra that you wouldn't expect for his age," Van Gilst said.
Once Turner matured, he became an upperclassman surrounded by younger talent and weighed by expectations. Van Gilst said there were days when, if Turner didn't throw a shutout, Westminster didn't win. Meanwhile, pitching coach and former Major League relief great Todd Worrell continued to work with him to put his game into action.
"Those two [early] years really helped prepare me for this year," Turner said. "I went into this year knowing we had a lot of younger guys. I wanted to not only win, but to help set up the younger guys to win."
The biggest risk in the First-Year Player Draft used to be the high school right-hander, whether for risk of injury or for the uncertainty of development. The Tigers went against that trend by drafting Porcello in the first round two years ago, a move that paid off big when he cracked the Detroit rotation this spring at age 20.
The Tigers would love to repeat history, but they have always considered Porcello the exception to the rule when it comes to the advancement of high school pitchers into the pros. The secondary pitches should work to Turner's advantage, but he'll have to work them into his game to a degree he didn't need against high school hitters.
"It starts with the delivery," Chadd said. "We felt as an organization his delivery was sound, with clean arm action. His fastball was up, commanded a breaking ball, commanded a chagneup. So you're talking about a high school right-handed pitcher with durability, and a power arsenal right now at the high school age."
Like Porcello two years ago, Turner has committed to pitch collegiately at North Carolina and has retained the services of super agent Scott Boras as his adviser. Whether he follows through on remains to be seen. The Tigers will have until Aug. 17 to sign him or risk losing him.
"The whole season, my plan has been North Carolina," Turner said. "That's the only thing I've had guaranteed to me. And really, the only thing that has changed to me is that instead of one option, I have two options."
Though questions about the Tigers and signability concerns floated during the day Tuesday, Chadd's stance didn't change. He said Tuesday afternoon that the Tigers would have the same approach as always, taking whom they felt was the best talent available.
"He's in a position," Van Gilst said, "where he's going to be a winner either way."
Other Tigers Day 1 picks:
Round 2, Andrew Oliver, LHP, Oklahoma State
Oliver's best known for going to court to overturn an NCAA suspension for hiring an agent, but his on-field arsenal makes his case for a hard-throwing lefty who can change speeds. Oliver's fastball ranges anywhere from the mid-90s with command to as high as 98 mph. His changeup helps keep hitters from gearing up.
Round 3, Wade Gaynor, 3B, Western Kentucky
Gaynor was a big power bat on a Hilltopper team that nearly worked its way out of the NCAA regionals, where the 6-foot-4, 225-pound junior hit three home runs with eight RBIs in five games. He was the first WKU player to hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases in the same season, batting .371 with 25 homers and 78 RBIs in 62 games.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.