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The Tigers should protect Spencer Turnbull from the Rule 5 draft

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All MLB teams will finalize their 40-man rosters on Monday.

Kansas City Royals v Detroit Tigers Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

The Detroit Tigers currently have six minor league players among their top 30 prospects who are unprotected from the December 14th Rule Five draft. There are also several more experienced players who won’t make the top 30, but are close enough to the major leagues to draw interest should they remain unprotected. The Tigers have nine open spots on the 40-man roster with which to protect them all. But of course, that isn’t going to happen. The Tigers will want to leverage their first overall pick to select an unprotected player. Someone will have to be unprotected. Possibly multiple someones.

Those decisions have to be finalized today.

Names like Mike Gerber, Gregory Soto, Gerson Moreno and Grayson Greiner are presumably off the off the table. The first three are all fairly talented prospects, despite not having blue chip status. Greiner is a decent catching prospect with a huge frame and a still developing bat. While Soto and Moreno are still a good way from being major league ready, each boasts a great arm and made good progress in 2017. A rebuilding team might be willing to put any of them on their major league roster for a trial run. Other than via trade, it’s hard to imagine any of four being left off the 40-man roster any longer.

The Tigers may end up shedding more than a few of the remaining four unprotected players before the new season begins next April, but for right now there’s one more name on the list that stands out as the player the team has to protect.

Spencer Turnbull, the Tigers’ 2014 second round draft pick, turned 25 in September but his development curve has been somewhat hampered by the injuries. It’s a mistake to describe him as a typical 25-year-old who hasn’t been able to figure it out beyond A-ball. Turnbull proved that in 2017 with improved command and better feel for his array of offspeed pitches.

Spencer Turnbull got off to a fine start in the Tigers’ organization. He put together a strong first full season in 2015 with the West Michigan Whitecaps. However, he was felled in 2016 by a shoulder impingement which cost him most of the season. The shoulder didn’t seem to be a problem this year, as Turnbull’s velocity rebounded close to previous levels, but a minor elbow injury also cost him much of June. Still, Turnbull threw 112 strong innings, mainly for the Lakeland Flying Tigers.

There were some clunkers along the way, but he had the look of a maturing young pitcher coming into his own this season. At this point, it’s just a matter of health while Turnbull tries to refine his command and take the next step. One who might not be out of place with a quick move to the Triple-A level in 2018. It’s probably not particularly likely that Turnbull would be selected by another team, but he’s certainly much closer to the majors than say, Jose Azocar or Sergio Alcantara.

There is quite a bit to like in Spencer Turnbull. He draws high marks for his makeup, and has college experience in a highly competitive conference pitching for the University of Alabama. He brings a combination of power stuff and movement that should eventually get him to the major leagues in some capacity. He just needs time and health to refine his command.

Turnbull is a solidly built right-hander who generates his velocity with enough ease to comfortably sit 92-96 throughout a game. As this season went on, he was maxing out at 97 per hour with nasty sink on his fastball. Josh Norris of Baseball America saw him throttle the Clearwater Threshers on August 14 of this year, and came away very impressed.

He slashed through opposing hitters with a lively fastball in the 92-96 mph range that touched 97 on multiple occasions. The pitch featured above-average cut life, which helped him induce nine groundouts against just four flyouts.

Flying Tigers’ manager, Andrew Graham, who will take over the Erie SeaWolves in 2018, spoke highly of the life on all of Turnbull’s pitches.

He’s doing a great job for us. He’s commanding all pitches. Everything he throws moves, but he’s getting better with command and that’s why he’s going deeper into games.

Turnbull backs his power sinker up with a hard slider that generally has drawn average grades. He’s made some strides with command of a fringy changeup, and has either a pair of interesting curveballs, or one erratic one, depending on who you ask. Norris describes a 75 mile per hour version, coupled with a harder knuckle curve in the low 80’s. MLB Pipeline simply describes a single pitch that is wildly inconsistent and draws poor grades. Either way, the curveball isn’t a real weapon as yet.

No doubt Turnbull has a good deal of refining to his craft before he can succeed at the major league level. He’s still something of a wild card as a prospect because of the injury history, particularly. But with 102 strikeouts to 35 walks this season, and a 3.70 ERA, he took a nice step forward to rebound from his lost 2016. The Tigers invested a second round pick, and a nine hundred thousand dollar signing bonus, in Turnbull back in 2014. It’s too early to go giving up on him now.

Protecting Turnbull would leave just three spots remaining with which to protect players from a Rule 5 selection. Sergio Alcantara, Jose Azocar and Adam Ravenelle would be other top candidates. And outside of the team’s top prospects, it’s possible that second baseman Kody Eaves could require protection after a good showing in the Arizona Fall League. One of those guys will presumably be left unprotected. Of course, none of the three is too likely to come back to haunt the Tigers. Spencer Turnbull is one who might, so presumably we’ll see him added to the 40-man roster today.