The Tigers and Jacob Turner: lesson learned?

The Detroit Tigers are taking their time with Jacob Turner's road to the bigs. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

You drafted him out of college. High school. Off the playground.
From a place like Kansas. Iowa. The Dominican.
You brought him up through Lakeland. Erie. Toledo.
Put him on the field and said to us, “Go write your stories.”

Number-one prospect.

A legend before he even landed.

But the mythical Jacob Turner would not disappoint.

In a surprising and seemingly uncharacteristic move, Dave Dombrowski called up his fabled prospect one year ahead of schedule – on July 30th 2011. Logistics. That’s what he would fall back on for his reasoning. A trade. Travel. Timing. The Tigers needed a starter. For one day. And the 20-year-old phenom would get his chance.

With public opinion and the starting rotation both faltering at the trade deadline, the Tigers were just about begging for something a little more potent. And many – myself included – wanted to use Turner as leverage. Trade him away for an established, starting pitcher – a great established, starting pitcher.

Dombrowski said that was off the table.

And then he showed us why.

That Saturday afternoon, Turner would take a shutout into the fifth inning against Dan Haren and the Angels. And, in the end, he’d allow just three hits and two earned runs in his 5.1 inning debut. Later, during another game, I would hear an announcer say, “The Tigers lose 5-1 today. Jacob Turner gets the loss,” and think, “True … but not accurate.”

He was good. Better than good. He changed my mind. As @tokarzontigers said: “You know what, I don’t care if Turner/Porcello for Jimenez would be fair. I don’t wanna do it. I’m growing attached.” The kid would walk off the field to a standing ovation that would make his body feel “like it went numb.” Classic.

And Dombrowski’s plan had worked.

Maybe too well.

A 20-year-old kid with a debut like that? Now what? We’d been hearing all season that Turner would find a place in the 2012 rotation. But that was months away. Months of stories. Expectations. The media storm. Expectations. Could he handle it? Would it ruin him?


Would we ruin him?

Back to the drawing board.

Now, I’m not saying Turner’s September starts were part of some plan designed to prove that he’s not the mythical creature we’d made him out to be. In fact, the goal may have been just the opposite – to keep this legend going. But the young pitcher gave up six runs his next time out and ended the season with an 8.53 ERA and WHIP of 1.66 over three starts. Will it be enough to lower our expectations? Take some of the pressure off?

And then there’s the real question … is he ready?

Around here, Rick Porcello is the token example of rushed development. At the ripe old age of 19, he went 8-6 in Lakeland (the Tigers class A minor league affiliate) with a 2.66 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. The next year, he’d find himself in the majors, having skipped double-A and triple-A ball altogether. It hasn’t been a complete disaster by any stretch – Porcello’s a good pitcher, with solid skills, no doubt about that. But how good could Porcello have been – right out of the gate  – with a few more minor league innings under his belt? If he never fully comes into his own – that is to say, he never measures up to the expectations – we will be debating this for years to come. Did we damage beyond repair the confidence of an amazing kid-pitcher by pushing him through so fast?

And are we about to do it again?

We drafted him out of high school. Missouri. Brought him up through Lakeland. And Erie. Put him on the field and said, “Have we got a story for you.”

Then we sent Jacob Turner back down to Toledo.

Maybe we’re learning something.

For his sake, I hope so.

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