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Shoulder Woes Shelve Tigers Prospect Jacob Turner

The first four spots of the Tigers’ rotation is pretty well set with Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, and Rick Porcello, but the club is holding what amounts to a competition for the fifth spot this spring. Right-hander Jacob Turner — the team’s top prospect and the 18th best prospect in baseball according to our own Marc Hulet — was in the running for the job until the team shut him down with shoulder tendinitis today. George Sipple of The Detroit Free Press has the news…

“Jacob had difficulty getting loose in his game,” (head trainer Kevin) Rand said. “He didn’t feel like he was able to finish pitches. More the second (inning) than the first, but he didn’t feel comfortable from the beginning.

“We’ve shut him down. He’s been examined. We’ve put him on some medication. He’s not going to pick up a baseball this week. We’re going to try and get his range of motion back. See what it takes. He’s got some tendinitis in his shoulder.”

Manager Jim Leyland acknowledged that the injury hurts Turner’s chances of making the club, which is obvious. The 20-year-old has allowed six runs on six hits and six walks in just four innings so far this month, striking out only a pair. He made three generally ineffective starts for Detroit last season (8.53 ERA and 6.03 FIP in 12.2 IP) and had seen his name surface in trade rumors this winter.

The Tigers will be fine; they have enough fifth starter candidates in camp that someone from the group including Andy Oliver, Drew Smyly, Duane Below, and Adam Wilk will emerge at some point. The bigger issue is Turner’s health moving forward, as shoulder problems are always a significant concern for young pitchers no matter how minor they sound. Turner is a pure power guy that lives in the mid-90s with his heat and uses it to set up his changeup and curveball, and any loss of velocity will hurt his performance and require an adjustment. There’s nothing more the team can do but wait to see how he responds next week.

Although the injury is an obvious negative, it could be a blessing in disguise. Assuming he comes through fine, it figures to allow Turner to spend some more time in Triple-A — where he’s thrown just 17.1 IP — to work on whatever he needs to work on. Rushing young pitchers rarely leads to positive results for the player or team, and the Tigers have aggressively promoted Turner like they did Verlander (who was a college guy) and Porcello once upon a time. Part of that has to do with his big league contract, which will burn through his third minor league option this season if sent down*.

* He will qualify for a fourth option because he’ll have used up his original three with his first five pro seasons, giving the Tigers one more year of flexibility.

Turner was part of a large group of fifth starter candidates this spring, and now this injury essentially takes him out of the running. Detroit has the internal options to fill out their rotation, so their priority with Turner should be the healthy of his prized right shoulder. If he’s healthy and ready to go in a week, great. If not, then they need to proceed with caution. Turner is exactly the kind of guy that can be a key part of the team’s success going forward either by getting on the mound or being traded for help elsewhere.