DETROIT -- For a team clearly going for it all in 2012, the Tigers still have pieces set for the future. In a few cases, they have very good pieces.
In the case of Jacob Turner, they have a piece who could work toward both goals.
Though Turner spent a good chunk of the offseason involved in trade rumors, the Tigers have held onto the right-hander, despite their win-now mentality. His potential impact explains why. Wednesday's release of MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects list reinforces it.
The Tigers have three players on the 2012 list, expanded this year from 50 to 100 prospects. But for present purposes, it's Turner who's creating the most buzz. He's the highest-ranked Tigers prospect at No. 15, and he's the one with the best position going into Spring Training.
While the Tigers will have no shortage of arms competing for the open fifth spot in their starting rotation, Turner boasts the most raw talent of the bunch. He's the youngest contestant representing the Tigers -- a group that includes reigning Tigers Minor League Pitcher of the Year Drew Smyly at No. 82 -- but Turner is the one who appears closest to the Majors.
Smyly, a left-handed starter coming off his first professional season after he was a second-round draft pick in 2010, also cracked the top 100 list at No. 82. Third baseman Nick Castellanos, Detroit's top selection that year and the Tigers' top position prospect, checked in at No. 51.
Turner is on the verge of his third Spring Training with the big club, but the first in which he stands a real chance of breaking camp with the Tigers. However, the right-hander insists he isn't thinking of it as a competition.
"I would say I definitely see it more as an opportunity," Turner said last week at the Toledo Mud Hens Fandemonium event. "That's the only thing you ask for in this game, is to be given the chance. And obviously, there's nothing that will be handed to anybody. But to just have the chance to go out there and compete hopefully for a spot in the rotation would be awesome.
"I think I just look at it as, there's an open spot. I think they're going to take whoever they feel has the opportunity to win games for them, so you just want to put yourself in a good position where, if they feel like you're the guy, that you're ready to go."
The Tigers felt strongly enough about Turner that they brought him up twice in the thick of the American League Central race last summer. The same day they completed their trade for Doug Fister, July 30, the Tigers trotted Turner to the mound for his Major League debut in a network-television game against the Angels. It was about as high-pressure of a situation as Turner could walk into for his first taste of the big leagues, but with 5 1/3 innings of two-run ball, he handled it.
Turner lost the decision, but he didn't lose his trademark poise that has left so many people marveling at his maturity for his age. Turner came back in September for two more starts with worse results, but he never looked overwhelmed.
Turner was the second Tigers pitcher in three years to make his big league debut at age 20. The previous one, Rick Porcello, won a rotation spot in 2009 and spent the entire year with the big club. Porcello faced a lower-pressure situation, pitching for a team that had just cut payroll coming off a last-place finish, but he flat-out outpitched the competition.
Turner brings a similar repertoire, centered around a hard sinker that can induce quick ground-ball outs. His secondary pitches are more refined, especially his changeup. His results in 2011 were better than his 4-5 record and 3.44 ERA at Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo would suggest; he allowed just 117 hits and 10 home runs over 131 innings.
Turner pushed back his throwing program to rest up his arm after an extended season, and his focus has been on being physically ready.
"Pitch-wise, I haven't really worked on a ton, to be honest," Turner said. "Obviously, going into the season, you're refining every pitch. You want to be better with your fastball command, but also with your breaking ball and changeup. That's something that in Spring Training I'll definitely be working on, probably focusing more on the offspeed pitches."
The question facing the Tigers now is whether Turner is ready to translate that stuff to the big leagues every five days. For all the talk about Turner's need for more experience, he already has more starts at Triple-A (three) than Porcello and Justin Verlander had combined before their rookie seasons, and nearly as many starts in the Tigers farm system in general. Turner's careful rise has been the product of lessons the Tigers learned from Verlander, Porcello and Jeremy Bonderman, and the result of a big league rotation already flush with young arms.
Turner isn't going to try to talk his way onto the staff. He wants his pitching to make his case.
"From my perspective, obviously, I feel like I've gotten better," Turner said. "I feel like each year, I've improved. But as far as being that guy, I think that's something that you would have to ask them, and you would probably have to ask in the spring. I don't think that's a question you can answer right now."
This year's edition of MLB.com's Top Prospects list has expanded from 50 to 100 players. The annual ranking of baseball's biggest and brightest young talent is assembled by MLB.com's Draft and prospect expert Jonathan Mayo, who compiles input from industry sources, including scouts and scouting directors. It is based on analysis of players' skill sets, upsides, closeness to the Majors and potential immediate impact to their teams. The list, which is one of several prospect rankings on MLB.com's Prospect Watch, only includes players with rookie status in 2012.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.