The Nationals have, for a few weeks ago, inched closer to putting Trea Turner in centerfield, and last night they finally made the leap. Turner in center field makes too much sense to not at least try, and fans should be excited that the Nats are willing to do it.
For starters, Turner appears to be an excellent hitter, and just the kind of table setter they are missing at the top of their lineup. He is making solid contact, and yesterday on more than one occasion, his speed probably got him hits that he shouldn’t have had. As a speed king, he’s a threat that the Nats just wouldn’t otherwise have, and he needs to be playing every day.
Centerfield has been a problem for the Nats, and without Turner they don’t have a great solution. Ben Revere has not hit much this year, and even if he returns to relative form, I’ve suggested he should hit ninth, not leadoff. And as a team, the Nats have managed the lowest OPS from CF in the entire NL, so there is clearly a need.
It makes sense to play Turner in that spot, because Ryan Zimmerman is back from the DL, and when he hits, he’s so valuable they have to give him an opportunity. So, even if there is a vision of Turner to 2B and Murphy to 1B, that won’t happen yet. And if things go well for Zimmerman, it won’t even happen next season, because Jayson Werth will continue to occupy left field, meaning there’s really no other place to put him.
Last night in his centerfield debut, Turner had a couple of balls hit to him, with mixed results. In the first inning, he made his first catch as an outfielder and it was a good one. Statcast says he had a 97.5% route efficiency and got up to 20.9 mph.
He looked good on that play, especially for a guy who had played all of six games in the outfield as a professional. And his speed will help him look good even when his first step is off. He will, though, have some growing pains as he adjusts to the position, and he showed that in the eighth inning when he dove for a blooper that got past him.
It reminded me of when Melky Cabrera, playing in one of his very first games in the big leagues, tried to do a bit too much. It was at the height of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, in 2005, and every game probably seemed bigger than it was. The Yankees were down already down 3-0, the bases were loaded, and he dove forward in a similar way. The one resulted in an inside-the-park home run, but it was a similar case of trying to do just a bit too much.
This kind of thing is to be expected, but I’m more concerned about the routine plays than the occasional big blunders. If he shows he can make the routine plays, the Nats would be wise to let him learn on the field, so they can keep him in the lineup every day.
The best thing the Nats did was make this move now, as opposed to testing it a few weeks from now. They can see what Turner looks like on defense – they already know how good he is on offense – and see if he makes the grade. If he looks lost, they still have the ability to make a trade. And if he’s really lost, they’ll see it over the course of a few games. If he doesn’t, they have a few months to see him improve.
As for Turner personally, this could be great for his career. He hasn’t dazzled defensively at shortstop, and although he may be good in the infield, he could be a great centerfielder. Centerfield is a premium defensive position, and having someone who can really hit there is an advantage. Hopefully the Nats have that now with Turner.