He used the Tampa Bay Rays desire to land Nationals’ farmhand Steven Souza, Jr. - who was coming off a huge 2014 for their Triple-A franchise, he hit .350/.432/.590 with 26 stolen bases - to replace Wil Myers, the Rookie of the Year for the AL in 2013, to dramatically improve his farm system by adding two top prospects in return for a backup outfielder.
With Bryce Harper, Denard Span and Jayson Werth locked in as outfield starters, Souza was at best a fourth outfielder, and probably less than that with uber prospect Michael Taylor on the way; the deal was a huge win for the Nationals.
Rizzo ended up prying RHP Joe Ross, who had a 2.81 ERA in 51.1 innings with a 54/12 strikeout-to-base-on-balls ratio for Double-A Harrisburg before being promoted to the big leagues on Saturday and SS Trea Turner from San Diego, who was the player he coveted according to a Washington Post story in last year’s draft.
Turner, 22, was in the Padres’ top five prospects for 2015 and one reason why Preller may have been willing to include him in the deal, despite his glaring need for a shortstop, was the assumption that Trea didn’t have the arm to stay at short and his bat wasn’t big enough for second or third.
“If he doesn’t have the arm for shortstop I certainly haven’t seen it,” said Mike Saeger, the Missions’ play-by-play announcer. “He has been one of the best players in the league since he got here.”
This year Turner is hitting .325/.391/.482, is fourth in the Texas League in batting average, third in total bases and has made only five errors in 51 games. As the “player to be named later” he should depart San Antonio for either Double-A Harrisburg or Triple-A Syracuse they day after the June 8 draft.
“There is a kid that gets better by the week,” said his batting coach Morgan Burkhart. “He’s short and quick to the ball and there is some power in that bat. He is thin, but he is also a lot stronger than he looks.”
While Myers has been very good for the Padres when he has been in the lineup, he is the player that San Diego thought he was - just a little expensive in terms of what they had to give up to get him; especially if you include the other players like first baseman Jake Bauers, who was also included in the deal.
Souza was hitting .225/.324/.455 with seven stolen bases in eleven attempts and 75 strikeouts for Tampa in 51 games and, of course, the Nationals are in first place going into tonight’s action.
It is easy to see why.
You made a really rapid rise through the system. You are in Double-A and it hasn’t even been a year since you were drafted. What has helped you do as well as you have?
Trea Turner: I think the mental side of it. In the last five months playing I’ve started to figure out how to coach myself better, working with our coaches, on how to focus on what I need to improve upon.
I feel like if I can make adjustments a little quicker I can shorten the bad streaks and lengthen the good ones on both offense and defense.
Mentally I think I have grown a lot.
Has it helped your focus playing pro ball since you just have to focus on baseball as compared to college?
Trea Turner: That is always nice, class is a little bit distracting but the big thing is just getting the opportunity to go out there and play everyday. A lot of guys, and myself included, can do something in the cage or with fungo bats but getting to play everyday gives you chance to see if you can implement it in a game if that is the right adjustment you need to make or if you need to try something else.
When we have talked to other guys they kind of say the opposite. They point out in college if you have a bad series, you can come back and work through some things in practice while in the pros it is everyday. A bad streak can really snowball.
Trea Turner: You definitely have to get in your early work but until you can actually do it in the game is when you can tell if you are getting the result that you need.
I can go in the cage and work on something with my hands or lower body and can repeat it there, but until I can do it in a game I haven’t done it yet.
Repetitions help, but mentally until you can do it in a game - and not just once, but consistently - that is the biggest adjustment.
Your worst numbers were in short-season Eugene. I’ve always assumed that it’s a little bit of a mental drop-off going to short-season after all of the pressure of getting drafted and the time off that you have.
Trea Turner: A little bit. It’s more about getting used to the competition. I get to Eugene - and like you said I hadn’t seen any live pitching in a few weeks - and everyone is throwing 95 with good off-speed. The more I moved up the more I was able to slow the game down.
I would have struggled with any pitching initially but as I got used to pro ball I was able to make adjustments and figure out what I did wrong and correct it the next time.
You talk about being aware of what type of player you are. The criticism of you coming in was that you were a good defensive player whose swing gets a little long. When I look at the numbers so far you are hitting well over .300, with a near .400 plus on-base percentage and leading the team in slugging percentage.
No offense you are not the biggest guy in the world. So how did you keep the power in your game without taking away from getting on base?
Trea Turner: A lot of those guys who wrote that stuff just don’t see me play everyday. They don’t see me making adjustments from at-bat to at-bat and from game to game. If they watched me play well one day, they would write something good. If I was bad, it would be something bad.
I think that is just a big part of my game, my ability to improve. I don’t hit now like I did in college and I think I am a much different, and better, player than last year. I don’t hit the ball the furthest, but if I stick to my approach every once in awhile I will run into one. I think hitting for power is as much about squaring up the ball as it is strength.
You haven’t had that big of an adjustment from aluminum to wood. You talk to so many players in their first year and that is a big reason why they struggle.
Trea Turner: It was a big adjustment for me and it was until I found a model bat that works for me. If you are using a bat that is too big or too small it will cause you problems.
Last year in Low-A I broke a ton of bats. I was swinging at pitches that I either thought I could hit or were strikes and ended up cracking a lot of bats. This year I’ve refined my approach and gotten a lot better. I’ve started to lay off some pitches and improved and am breaking a lot fewer bats.
You said you are not the type of hitter that you were in college. How so?
Trea Turner: I had a lot of movement in college. My swing is still the same, but what I do before the swing is a little bit different. Everyone does something for their load whether its a leg kick or moving their hands up or down, but when they go to hit have to be in an on-time position and to be ready to hit many types of pitches.
I’ve found a load that enables me to get in the same position everytime. I think I have become more consistent about being on-time and being ready to hit many different types of pitches.
We are talking about your offense and ignoring your defense. Everyone raves about your defense. You hardly have any errors and the only knock we could find on you is that you don’t have the strongest arm.
How would you describe your game and respond to that criticism?
Trea Turner: I personally think my arm is strong. If you look at some of the guys that have played shortstop in the major leagues like David Eckstein, they obviously don’t have the biggest arm but if they are doing things correctly, like using your feet which I am a big believer in, you don’t have to make the great throw.
Some guys don’t move their feet, which is kind of what I used to do, and they make an easy play much more difficult.
Are you trying to run more?
Trea Turner: I definitely like to run but you also have to do it within the context of the game. This year I have been hitting in the second or third spot in the order and there are times when its my job to let someone else run or let our cleanup hitter drive me in.
I think I can be more aggressive but at the same time it’s been my job to do something else.