February 25th, 2012

Day 6: Turner, Smyly … Who’s more polished?

Jacob Turner and Drew Smyly have a budding rivalry going … in Tiger Woods Golf.

They’re not roommates here at spring training, but along with Casey Crosby, they’re hanging out and playing video games, much like Rick Porcello and Ryan Perry were doing a few years ago. Their trash talk carries over into the Tigers locker room, where Turner was razzing Smyly while he was being interviewed.

Turner has taken his fair share of rookie abuse for the past two spring trainings here, so he has finally earned the chance to dish it out. And yet Smyly, in his first spring training with the big club in just his second professional season, is nearly two years older than Turner.

The way they interact back up Jim Leyland’s feeling that this isn’t a competition for the fifth spot in the rotation. Nonetheless, they’re two talented pitching prospects who could break camp in the rotation, though they can’t both do it. And they come from vastly different routes to this point.

Turner just began his third season as a professional pitcher. He has started all three years in Major League camp with the Tigers after Detroit drafted him in the first round in 2009 (in fact, if you don’t count the compensation round, he’s the last Tigers first-round pick). He has logged more spring training time with the Tigers than any other starting candidate in this camp, and he has more Major League and minor league starts than Justin Verlander did before he cracked the Tigers rotation in 2006.

At age 20, he can face big-league hitters in workouts and not look overwhelmed at all. He sounds like somebody who has been through this before, even though he has only watched it.

“I think this one might be more exciting for me,” Turner said, “just because this is my third year and I’m more comfortable being around everything and I know what to expect, what’s going on. I’m definitely really excited for this spring, and we’ll see what happens.”

Smyly, as mentioned, is beginning his second pro season and his first big-league camp. When Turner was going through his first camp two years ago, Smyly was going through the SEC at the University of Arkansas. When Turner was on standby here as a possible postseason injury replacement if Detroit needed a starter, Smyly was pitching for Team USA in the Pan Am Games in Mexico.

“Now, I’m in the same big league camp as Justin Verlander and Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera,” Smyly said.

He isn’t a prototypical hard-throwing Tigers pick, but his polish by all accounts last year was impressive for somebody just beginning his career. He put that on display for Tigers coaches when he faced hitters for the first time, and they left impressed.

Smyly brought more experience into this camp than Turner did into his first one. Turner, however, brought more pro experience. Their experiences, so far, have been parallel. When the Tigers called up Turner from Double-A Erie for his Major League debut July 30, Smyly replaced him in Erie’s rotation that night, having been called up a few days earlier.

Bottom line, neither of them are here just for show, or just for experience. Either of these guys could break camp.

Someone check on Wilson Betemit: They’re actually separate items, but they add up to a brutal day for former Tigers. Joel Zumaya ended a live throwing session early at Twins camp on Saturday after reportedly feeling something in his elbow. Later, Scott Sizemore reportedly sprained his knee during infield drills at A’s camp. Meanwhile, Carlos Guillen has missed the last two days of Mariners workouts with calf tightness, according to Larry Stone of the Seattle Times. The M’s reportedly don’t believe it’s anything serious.

Actual workout item of the day: Both Turner and Smyly pitched against live hitters Saturday, and neither looked like green prospects. Turner went time and again to the outside corner with breaking pitches, trying to show he can spot it for a strike. Hitters made contact against him, but most of it on the ground. Smyly mixed pitches deceptively and got swings and misses from a group of hitters that included Gerald Laird, Audy Ciriaco and Jerad Head.

Actual workout item of the day, part 2: Daniel Schlereth came into camp looking to improve his fastball command, and Saturday was a start. Schlereth wasn’t completely pleased with it, but he was pretty upbeat, and he had coaches watching. He said he’s also throwing a slightly different slider with a little different movement.

Non-workout item of the day: Leyland stated the obvious on Saturday, that they haven’t decided anything on the open rotation spot and that they don’t have any favorites.

“We’re putting them all out there and we’re going to make a decision,” Leyland said. “We haven’t done that yet. We haven’t even played games. Nobody has a leg up on anybody.”

Quote of the day: “All-Northern Lakes League doesn’t usually send you to Canton.” — Leyland on his football career

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