PRINCETON — Every professional baseball player has a skill that makes teams see they have the potential to play in the major leagues.
For the Princeton Rays Gionti Turner it is his speed and athleticism that teams loved. They could see the potential of a good player if Turner puts in the work.
In his second year in professional baseball Turner is working hard to become a better player. He recognizes that his speed is something most players can only dream about having but does not rely on it to thrive.
“I know I got speed I kind of just try to use it to the best of my abilities, try to use it to my advantage where I can… I just try to hustle everything out, play the game hard and play the game right,” Turner said.
Just having speed does not mean that Turner is able to use it whenever he wants in games. He has four steals in seven attempts this season after nine in 15 attempts in his first professional season.
“I’m also still learning how to be a base stealer, be a good base stealer because I want to be one of the best. I love running, I love stealing so anytime I can steal I’ll do it but I’m still learning so I’ve got a long way to go,” Turner said.
Turner is learning how to best harness his speed in games and use it to his and the teams advantage. He has a coaching staff that knows he is going to make mistakes and wants him to remain aggressive
“He’s a high energy player, he’s going to do a lot of things wrong in his career cause he’s trying so hard and that’s okay. It’s okay to make aggressive mistakes,” Princeton Rays manager Danny Sheaffer said.
Turner has been hitting very well for the Rays including seven games in a row with multiple hits and a batting average of .348. He is not just getting on base but driving in runs with 20 RBIs in 26 games, two less than he had all of last season.
The approach that Turner has taken at the plate is not just trying to get the ball in play on the ground and try to use his speed to beat it about but drive the ball. It has helped that he has been mainly batting in the lower half of the lineup where he has opportunities to drive in runners and is not just trying to reach base.
“I’m going up to the plate and going through the motions but still with the intent to do damage so therefore I will be better prepared to crush a fastball but sit off speed when I need to and react to it and drive it the other way,” Turner said.
Despite being only 18 years old Tampa Bay is not Turner’s first organization as he was drafted by the Cleveland Indians.
The Indians drafted Turner in the 27th round of the 2018 MLB Draft out of Watson Chapel High School and signed him for $125,000 to begin his professional baseball career.
He spent the rest of the year in the rookie-level Arizona League on the second team for the Indians. He was a standout performer with a .296 batting average and 22 runs batted in over 46 games.
His performance convinced the Rays to trade for him in November with pitcher Chih-Wei Hu who has spent most of his career in Triple-A but appeared 11 times for the Rays before being traded.
Turner was not expected to be traded so it was shocking but he took it in stride as a new opportunity where he could showcase all of his skills.
“I looked at it as a another opportunity, one door closes and God opens another so that’s what he did and I’m thankful to be here to work with so many great people,” Turner said.
It has been an adjustment for Turner moving from the Arizona League to the Appalachian League. The pitchers he has faced are much better and throw a larger variety of pitches that Turner has to be prepared for.
“You see harder throwers here but you also see more curveballs so you have to be very, very disciplined because if not then you really lost that at-bat so I mean its been an adjustment,” Turner said.
The hitting of Turner has meant that he is playing every day and Sheaffer expects him to continue doing so wherever he plays.
Turner has not staked claim to one position yet as he has played five different ones for the Rays this season.
Third base has been his main position with 13 games there but he has played four games apiece in left field and center field. He has played two games at second base and two in right field.
Being able to play in a multitude of positions means Sheaffer is able to get Turner in the lineup everyday at different positions.
“When I come to the park I expect to play every day… if I’m in the lineup wherever I am at I just give it my best no matter if I’m short, second, first base. Wherever you put me that’s where I’m going to play,” Turner said.
Turner has made mistakes defensively as he works on getting better in five positions but has only been charged with two errors in 58 chances.
“It’s just a learning process and it takes time but I’m willing,” Turner said.
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