Under the Radar details players in the Chicago White Sox system who may have suffered setbacks, gotten lost in the shuffle, or just haven’t surfaced as significant prospects as of yet. Next up is Colton Turner, who has been dominant in the Birmingham bullpen for the last two years.
Colton Turner (LHP) — Birmingham Barons
Turner was acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays on August 27, 2016, for catcher Dioner Navarro. At the time of the acquisition, Turner had a microscopic 0.41 ERA and 60 strikeouts over 54 innings, with 70 strikeouts while pitching for Lansing (A), Dunedin (A+), and New Hampshire (AA) in the Blue Jays system. The Blue Jays took him in the 21st round of the 2012 MLB draft. Turner came out of Texas State, where as a starting pitcher he enjoyed a 2.45 ERA and punched out 87 hitters over 87 2⁄3 innings of work.
Last year with Birmingham, Turner had a 2.45 ERA and 1.12 WHIP, while striking out 37 and walking just 10 over 33 innings; batters hit only .223 against him, while he had nifty strikeout (27.4%) and walk (7.4%) percentages. Once he was promoted to Charlotte, however, Turner struggled to a 6.85 ERA and 1.61 WHIP over 22 innings, while his strikeout rate declined (18.4%) and OBA increased (.309).
In 2018, Turner started the season with Charlotte, but struggled to the tune of a 7.59 ERA and 1.69 WHIP in his first seven outings. Hitters batted .310 against him during this short stint, and Turner walked five hitters in 10 2⁄3 innings of work.
After being demoted to Birmingham, Turner has since returned to his dominant form. In 25 outings encompassing 38 innings, he has a 7-2 record, with four saves. As a Baron this year, Turner has excelled, with a 0.95 ERA and 0.87 WHIP while allowing just 24 hits and nine walks. He’s held Southern League hitters to a .179 OBA, 6.2 BB%, and 26.2 K%.
Turner has the classic pitcher’s build (six-foot-three, 215 pounds) and has enjoyed similar success against lefties and righties throughout his career. This year with both Birmingham and Charlotte, lefties have hit .220 while righties have hit just .205 against him. Thus, Turner doesn’t really have a LOOGY profile.
Turner’s repertoire includes a max 95 fastball, 83-87 mph slider, and changeup, which he uses primarily against right-handed hitters. His control has been better than his command — especially in AAA ball. Lower-level hitters may be more inclined to swing at pitches off the plate early in the count, digging themselves into a hole; AAA hitters, however, are more than happy to work the count and wait for the right pitches to drive. Because of this, Turner falls behind and is thus more susceptible to damage. Turner’s ability to adjust will help determine the success he’ll have in Charlotte and, eventually, the majors.
This Cleburne, Texas native is a tough pitcher to analyze. He’s had the repertoire and success through AA ball to make it seem he may have a chance to make it to the White Sox someday soon; however, in both stints thus far with Charlotte, Turner has crashed and burned. If he could make the necessary adjustments and improve his command, especially early in the count, he could reach his ceiling as a middle reliever for the White Sox relatively soon.
At 27, Turner runs the risk of being categorized as an organizational player if he doesn’t excel with his next opportunity for Charlotte; it isn’t unheard of, however, to see relievers make their MLB debut in their late twenties. If unable to make adjustments, however, Turner’s floor seems to be that of an AAa player — someone too good for AA ball but not good enough for AAA.
Turner is eligible for the Rule 5 draft in December. Because of the large amount of southpaw bullpen depth in the upper levels of the White Sox system presently, he may be left unprotected. Because most teams don’t have the White Sox depth, it’s conceivable Turner could be claimed. If not, anticipate Turner beginning 2019 in Charlotte, with an opportunity to punch a mid-season ticket to Chicago if all goes well.