When it comes to stature and velocity, pitchers aren't gift-wrapped much prettier than big righthander Spencer Turnbull. Standing in at a solid 6'3, 215 pounds, Turnbull surfaced with both a blueprint build and résumé as a member of the Alabama Crimson Tide. Accolades in tow, Turnbull fit the bill for the Detroit Tigers, who snagged the Mississippi native in the second round of the 2014 MLB draft.
Detroit's second round man saw just one game for his 2014 debut in the Gulf Coast League, tossing three innings and striking out four before being carted off to Short-Season Connecticut the same year. In 28 1/3 innings of work for the minor league Tigers, Turnbull struck out 19, while surrendering 14 walks and 31 hits. He finished the year 0-2 with a 4.45 ERA.
The real work began in 2015, with Turnbull's assignment to Single-A West Michigan. He lived up to the "bull" part of his name, throwing 116 2/3 innings in 22 starts. In addition to contributing to the Whitecaps' Midwest League championship, Turnbull cashed in a team-high 106 strikeouts, and a .786 win percentage, best among Whitecaps starters. His 11 wins were tied for second on the team behind righty A.J. Ladwig.
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Copied straight out of the Dave Dombrowski "how-to" book of recruiting, it's easy to see the appeal in what Turnbull brings to the Tigers organization. He uses a high three-quarter arm slot and every bit of his burly 6'3, 215 pound frame into a fastball that routinely tips the mid-90s with good sinking action. Turnbull maintains velocity well throughout his starts, and can run the fastball up to 98 miles per hour at times, a feat he achieved on a regular basis during his session in West Michigan.
Turnbull's two-seamer works best towards the bottom of the strike zone, where he is able to induce a lot of weak contact. He induced a 50 percent ground ball rate for the Whitecaps last year, and should sit close to that number as he improves his command.
(h/t Daren Willman, MLB.com)
Aside from the potential double-plus fastball, Turnbull adds two more pieces to his arsenal, including a potential plus slider and a below-average changeup. He improved his control of the slider throughout the year at West Michigan, but still needs to improve its consistency. Chris Crawford and the team from Baseball Prospectus broke down their perspective of Turnbull's secondary offerings.
"The slider and change are both works in progress; the former will flash above-average, while the latter is more of a fringe-average pitch at this point. Both pitches showed improvement this summer, as did his control (20 walks in April-May; 27 walks the rest of the season)."
At the end of the day, the most common concern for Turnbull is command, command, command. Turnbull's plus-plus fastball is the meat and potatoes of his arsenal, but he needs to command it better, along with his slider and changeup. Crawford added his thoughts regarding the role that Turnbull's consistency needs to play, with Baseball Prospectus projecting his major league debut for 2017.
"A lack of consistency has plagued him all the way back to his collegiate days, and there were stretches this year in which he struggled to miss bats. The arsenal suggests mid-rotation starter, but more than one scout believes he'll ultimately end up a member of the bullpen."
To remain a starter, Turnbull needs to further develop his secondary pitches; specifically, his changeup. TigsTown's John Moore noted that Turnbull maintains good arm speed when throwing the change, and the pitch has good movement. However, Turnbull's command with it is still lacking. This is normal for young pitchers; they don't often need the changeup for success until they reach this level, and it typically lags behind other offerings. He will need it to become a major league average pitch to keep lefties at bay; they got on base at a .347 clip against him last season.
Evaluation: Dan Farnsworth, FanGraphs
"Turnbull is a hard-throwing former second round pick for the Tigers in 2014, capable of dialing it up to the upper-90s but throwing regularly up to 95. He has a clean arm action despite stiff actions throughout the rest of his body, leading to below-average command and just average projection on his off-speed stuff with inconsistent movement and effectiveness. His fastball has appreciable sink at the lower range of his velocity, giving him a solid ground ball-inducing pitch to keep him moving through the system. His overall athleticism on the mound doesn't leave much for projecting improvements to his secondary offerings, but I like the package enough to see a seventh inning guy in the future."
Projected team: Advanced-A Lakeland
At the age of 23, the lack in command with just one chapter of full-season minor league ball under his belt, Advanced-A Lakeland could prove to be a solid temporary training ground for the burly righthander. The Tigers may get aggressive and push Turnbull to Double-A Erie if he gets off to a hot start this year, but improving command of all pitchers is more important than his actual numbers. Turnbull has the ability to dominate lower-level hitters, but developing command will boost his chances to see a higher level of play within the organization.
Note: We're changing up our prospect coverage a bit this year. Instead of an "official" ranking of the best prospects in the system, we're going to profile those that are most interesting to us (and you too, hopefully). Don't worry, no one has been fired, and daily recaps will still happen during the season. We appreciate any constructive feedback you offer, and we'll take your prospect suggestions into account as well.