Who is Justin Turner?

The only thing hotter than Justin Turner’s bat right now is his red hair.

In his first 44 at-bats this season, he’s sporting a .318 average with 10 RBI, 3 doubles, 1 home run and an .816 OPS. Average that out for the course of the full season – say 440 at-bats – and Turner’s the next Dan Uggla with 30 double and 100 RBI!

Obviously that comment was laden with sarcasm, but there is some degree of truth to it. After all, the Mets opened the season with anemic Brad Eamus as the starting second baseman before moving on to fan favorite Daniel Murphy and Turner, both of whom who have clutch hits this year.

The real question is less what can Turner do in the future, but who is he?

Turner, 26, was born in Long Beach, CA. After graduating from Mayfair High School in Lakewood, CA, he went on to play at Cal State Fullerton. The New York Yankees claimed in the 29th round of the 2005 draft, but they couldn’t reach a deal. The Cincinnati Reds drafted Turner in the seventh round of the 2006 draft, when he signed for a $50,000 signing bonus.

Turner was a middle infielder in school. When he suited up for the Reds’ Rookie League affiliate, the California-native played all four infield positions, left field and right field. He was promoted to Class A in 2007, but only played second base, third base and shortstop. That continued on his route through the minors. At the plate, Turner always boasted a strong batting average – often over .300 – and OPS – averaging .816 in six minor league seasons. In two of those seasons, he hit double-digit home runs, albeit just barely, although to be fair he did have five seasons of 20+ doubles.

2011 marks the third year Turner has seen major league action, although he played in just 21 combined games between 2009-2010. As of May 17, Turner collected 47 at-bats in 16 games.

Called up on April 19, he struggled at the plate early; he collected 4 hits in his first 17 at-bats. But the switch appeared to click on May 7 when Turner cracked a pinch-hit single to centerfield that drove in the winning runs. He safely hit in six of the next seven games, including a 2-RBI double and 3-RBI on the May 15 win. However, the middle infielder also hit into a double-play in the bottom of the tenth inning on May 16 with runners on first and second.

So what does this all mean? The clearest message is that we shouldn’t read too much into anything he’s done so far in 2011. More to the point, it also suggests Turner may be playing a little over his head, something a 2010 scouting report agrees with.

According to that report, Turner is a right-handed Murphy. He plays hard, does what he’s told and is willing to play any position. His power is limited, said the report, but he maintains a high average. His defense was also seen as average at best.

If logic rings true, Turner is probably a quality utility guy who should see plenty of at-bats. He likely won’t slug many bombs, but he can keep a rally going. In the field, he may not sparkle, but he gets to more balls than an aging Luis Castillo. That combined with his work-ethic should make him another fan favorite along with Murphy, and having two young supersubs can only bolster the roster going forward.

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