Justin Turner Looking for More in 2015

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When most Dodger fans hear the term “utility infielder” they might think of a mid-level player, limited skills, someone just good enough to make up the numbers on the 25-man roster. Someone who is a definite step down from the everyday players they are blessed to fill-in for from time to time.

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In 2014, Justin Turner raised the bar for what a utility infielder can be. Offensively, the big red head was a revelation for the Dodgers, hitting .340 with 288 at-bats and a slugging percentage just below .500. These are numbers comparable (if not better) than third baseman Juan Uribe (.311/.440), shortstop Hanley Ramirez (.283/.448), and second baseman Dee Gordon (.289/.378), the three starters who Turner typically stepped in for last season.

But 2014 was both a blessing and a curse for Turner. It was a blessing because he consistently delivered in big situations for the team, stepping in all over the infield to plug gaps and delivering clutch hits both as a starter and as a pinch hitter. The curse is that now opposition teams will be ready for him. Expectations will be higher going into this season than they were a year ago.

One thing for certain, he will not be able to sneak up on any teams in 2015. They will have his numbers and know his tendencies.

So the big question for Turner is whether or not he’ll be able to repeat (or at least approach) last year’s remarkable performance in 2015. His career average of .280 makes one expect 2015 to be a season of regressing to the mean. There is also the question of his defense. Juan Uribe held a commanding DWAR of 2.0 over Turner’s 0.8 and Turner’s fielding percentage of .954 was the lowest of any Dodger second basemen in 2014. With the new signings of Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick it appears that glove competition will now be even steeper for Turner. Pending health issues, opportunities to prove himself could appear less often than last season resulting in more pinch hitting appearances but fewer starts.

As outlined by JP Hoornstra at the Daily News, preparing for a healthier 2015 is already a high priority for Turner. Justin missed 19 games last season on the DL which can be a killer situation for role players who need every game day opportunity afforded them to make an impression. During the offseason he returned to Los Angeles early to begin strength training and conditioning for what he hopes will carry him through the 162-game grind.

Having a breakout season in only his fourth full year in the Majors (and his first with the Dodgers), it is quite possible that what we saw in 2014 is a more accurate reflection of an improving Justin Turner than what we saw in his early days with the Mets. Maybe what we saw last season was the real Turner blossoming into the Major League player we all hope he becomes. Unfortunately, the thirty-year-old California native is no longer in the early days of his career, and if he if intends to prove that last season was not a fluke then there will be no better time than the present.

One thing for certain, he will not be able to sneak up on any teams in 2015. They will have his numbers and know his tendencies. It will be up to Turner to adjust when needed and to prove to Don Mattingly and the Dodger coaching staff that he is worthy of more than being thought of as just another utility infielder.

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