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 Turner, Oliver impress Tigers with outings in "B" game vs Astros

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PostSubject: Turner, Oliver impress Tigers with outings in "B" game vs Astros   Sat Mar 06, 2010 9:28 am

Turner, Oliver impress Tigers with outings
Club's top Draft picks from 2009 not big league bound yet

By Jason Beck / MLB.com

03/05/10 7:36 PM EST

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The first words Tigers manager Jim Leyland heard from his boss about Jacob Turner this spring were cautionary. But they were a good sort of cautionary.

"No, you can't have him," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski told Leyland as they watched the 18-year-old throw a bullpen session on the back fields at Tigertown last month.

The Tigers' first-round pick from last year's First-Year Player Draft isn't coming up to the big leagues, not just yet. Nor is Andy Oliver, their next selection last summer. But just because Leyland can't have them on his club doesn't mean he can't watch them.

So while the big league Tigers went through drills and took batting practice at Joker Marchant Stadium on Friday morning, there was Leyland on the back fields at Tigertown for Friday's "B" game between the Tigers and Astros. He was there to watch a lot of players, but Turner and Oliver were among them.

They combined to toss the first four innings of the Tigers' 4-1 loss, but they left a lasting impression. It could be the most work they get in games this spring before they're sent to Minor League camp for their first pro assignments, but it's enough for both sides to get an idea of what's ahead.

"It was exciting just to get back out there and show what I can do," Turner said.

For Turner, it was essentially his first competitive outing since the end of the high school season last May, before Detroit drafted him. He pitched an inning in the Florida Instructional League last fall, but that was designed more just to get some work before the winter rather than to actually evaluate. Nor did last week's session of batting practice feel the same as an actual game, though it did serve to get him better prepared for game action.

Turner has been in Lakeland since mid-January, but this was a different session -- an actual game. He went through his normal preparations for a start, took the mound and went about attacking Houston hitters. He made a nifty grab to snare a comebacker to start the game, and ended the inning with a routine grounder to second. In between, he worked ahead with fastballs to set up his biting curve for a check-swing third strike.

After a single from former Tiger Chris Shelton to lead off the second, Turner induced three straight fly balls to left fielder Wilkin Ramirez to end his outing. His stern facial expression never seemed to change, not even when he came back into the dugout. Combined with his tall frame, it was an imposing presence on the mound for someone so young. It was the expression of someone who grew up playing hockey, too, until a knee injury in junior high school ended that career.

"I was anxious to see him pitch," Leyland said later, "and I was very impressed. He doesn't show a lot of emotion. He looks very confident, like he knows what he wants to do and how to do it."

That's saying a lot for someone who can and does consider 21-year-old Rick Porcello a veteran pitcher.


For Oliver, there seemed to be some anxiousness at the start. He gave up a single and a walk to begin his outing before a one-out walk loaded the bases. His fastball sailed on him at times, and his slider seemed to miss the inside corner on left-handed hitters. Still, he got it around.

Casper Wells helped save the inning with a fly ball double play when his throw home against his momentum hit right up the line for catcher Max St. Pierre to start a rundown play.

Oliver gave up another walk and a single in the fourth inning. But he also blew past Shelton on three pitches for a strikeout, the last on a fastball on the corner for a called third strike.

"My arm felt fine," Oliver said. "It's just I was rushing everything, wasn't staying back and my arm's kind of dragging behind. I was leaving balls up high."

Oliver is in a different position than Turner. The former Oklahoma State standout wasn't in the Major League camp when pitchers and catchers reported in mid-February, but he was called over once bursitis and tendinitis put veteran reliever Bobby Seay out of action. It had nothing to do with Turner competing for a job, more like the Tigers finding actual space and time to work with him.

"I wasn't expecting to come over here, but I got called over here," Oliver said. "It's been exciting. It's been fun so far. I'm trying to learn as much as I can over here with these veteran guys, just taking it day by day."

The days in Major League camp are numbered for both of these guys, for sure. Eventually, they'll be headed to the farm system and the true beginning of their pro careers, whether it's at the usual starting point of Class A Lakeland or somewhere else. Wherever that is, though, it's quite likely Leyland will be paying attention from time to time.

After Leyland watched Turner pitch in workouts last month, he felt compelled to call scouting director David Chadd and congratulate him on his pick. When he saw Oliver the next day, he wanted to do the same thing.

"There's a lot of prospects," Leyland said as he looked around camp recently, "probably the most prospects I've ever had in a camp. I can assure you that those guys will be in Detroit someday, a lot of them. I don't know where I'll be, but they will be."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


“It takes pitching, hitting and defense. Any two can win. All three make you unbeatable.”    
–Joe Garagiola
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