The Cubs today acquired pitcher Jacob Turner from the Marlins for two as yet unnamed minor league pitchers. The two are not expected to be prospects. Turner was traded to the Cubs after the Marlins had designated him for assignment earlier in the week.
Turner was the ninth overall pick in the 2009 draft by the Detroit Tigers. He was considered the top high school pitcher in the draft and maybe even the third overall pick (behind Stephen Strasburg and Dustin Ackley), but his large bonus demands scared several teams off and he was the third high school pitcher taken and the sixth overall pitcher. The Tigers signed him to a major league deal worth a total of $5.5 million. The Marlins would later pay for this folly, as because of that major league deal Turner is now out of options.
Turner instantly became the top prospect in the Tigers system and would be for the next three seasons. He had a plus fastball that sat at 92-94 and he could rev it up to 97 mph on occasion. His curveball was projected to be a plus pitch and his change up projected out to be at least average. With two plus pitches and a solid third, Turner was projected out to be a number two starter in the majors, or at worst a number three if one of those two off speed pitches failed to develop as hoped.
You can probably guess where this is going. He cruised through both levels of A ball in 2010 and in 2011 was pitching well at Double-A Erie when he got a call up to Detroit to make one start against the Angels. He acquitted himself well and when he was demoted, he went to Triple-A Toledo. He battled some minor arm and shoulder problems late in 2011 and the Tigers limited his innings the rest of the way, although he didn't miss any significant time. His minor league numbers in 2011 were good, but not great like you would expect from a top prospect. He got a major league call up in September of 2011 because, hey, he's on a major league contract anyway. But the Tigers were in a pennant race (so to speak, they had a huge lead on Cleveland) so he only made two starts and one came after the Tigers had clinched. He got hammered in both starts.
In 2012, Turner was expected to start the season in the Tigers rotation, but he missed most of Spring Training and the first few weeks of April with shoulder tendonitis. When he came back, he was sent to Toledo where he was plagued with inconsistency. Those off-speed pitches that the scouts thought were potential plus pitches never lived up to their potential. His superficial ERA in Toledo in 2012 was a solid 3.16. But without a second plus pitch, Turner's strikeout numbers were dropping. He walked too many batters. He was becoming a ground ball pitcher.
Still, everyone thought he could still be a solid mid-rotation pitcher and he was traded in July of 2012 to Miami as part of the Anibal Sanchez trade. He pitched well for the Marlins down the stretch in 2012 and it looked like the Marlins had made a smart acquisition.
He opened the 2013 season in Triple-A and struggled. He was recalled to Miami at the end of May and again, his superficial stats were good: a 3.74 ERA. But he was only striking out 5.9 batters per nine innings and he was walking 4.1. His FIP was 4.47. That's not a good combination for long-term success.
This season, Turner's luck ran out. He has struggled badly at the major league level. He's cut the walks down quite a bit, but he still doesn't seem to have developed an out pitch that can put hitters away. The Marlins designated him for assignment after posting a 4-7 record with a 5.97 ERA in 12 starts and eight relief appearances.
But the underlying numbers show some improvement. Strikeouts are up. His fastball velocity is holding steady. The walks are down. Although his ERA is high, much of that can be explained by a very high .368 BABIP. His FIP this season is down to a not-embarrassing 4.01. Much of his failure this season could be explained to bad luck.
Obviously, the Cubs see Turner as a reclamation project similar to Jake Arrieta. He still doesn't profile as a top starter unless he cam somehow develop another plus pitch. Not likely, but possible. He's only been pitching professionally for 3 1/2 years. He's still only 23. Another option is to move him to the bullpen where he could just rely on his fastball a lot more. That would be the route taken by Andrew Miller, another former top Tigers prospect traded to the Marlins where he disappointed.
Turner is a low-risk gamble that could pay off big. It's not very likely to pay off, but if it doesn't, then the Cubs just haven't lost much.
Update: The pitchers have been named
Pitchers Tyler Bremer and Jose Arias go to Marlins for Jacob Turner— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) August 8, 2014
We wish Arias and Bremer the best of luck with the Marlins.