Veteran Justin Turner hopes he can help Blue Jays ‘continue to grow’

DUNEDIN, Fla. — With the sun finally shining over the Blue Jays player development complex after two straight days of rain, veteran Justin Turner got his first look at a few of his new teammates while taking batting practice on Monday when position players officially reported for camp.

Turner hit in a group that included Blue Jays stars Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and the experience served as a fresh reminder of why Turner chose to sign a one-year, $13-million deal to play in Toronto.

“That’s the cool part about changing teams is you have an idea of what guys are like from playing against them across the field and then when you get to wear the same uniform as them, you get to see how they’re wired day in and day out and what makes them great players,” Turner said. “I’ve only been here a couple of days, but I’m looking forward to seeing them go about their business every day.”

Turner hopes to learn from his Blue Jays teammates and, in turn, he wants to be able to help them. The 39-year-old is entering his 16th season in the major leagues and said he hopes to draw from his experiences to hopefully take a team that’s been stuck in the Wild Card round of the playoffs for the past two years to the next level.

“This is a really good baseball team already and I don’t think there’s a magic pill that you can take. I don’t think that there’s a solution for it. I was with the Dodgers for nine years, made the playoffs nine years, and we won one World Series, so I guess if I had all the answers, we probably would have been a little more successful,” Turner said. “But hey, it’s about showing up every day, putting in the work and being able to trust the guy next to you and going at it. Twenty-six guys together and trying to figure out a way to win a game one day at a time.”

Even before Turner signed with the Blue Jays last month, Bichette had made his interest in being teammates with him known. In an interview with Sportsnet 590 The Fan’s Jeff Blair and Kevin Barker, the shortstop said he thought Turner’s presence could be impactful on his club. Only a short time later, the Blue Jays agreed to terms with Turner, a player they’d been after for a while.

“He just obviously is confident in what he does as a player. You can tell he’s professional and you can never have enough guys like that around. So definitely somebody that I really wanted to play with,” said Bichette, who shares an agent with Turner. “There’s a difference between veterans and then veterans who really show professionalism and things like that, and he’s definitely that guy. Whenever you can see someone who’s had a lot of success and then they show you how they’ve had it, I think is very impactful. And, and I think he does both of those.”

Turner (right) chats with prospect Addison Barger. (Jonathan Dyer / USA Today)

Turner, who has a lifetime .829 OPS, bounced around during the early part of his career, playing for the Baltimore Orioles and New York Mets before he latched on with the Dodgers in 2014 and transformed from a journeyman to an All-Star. At each stop, Turner said he had older guys who led the way including Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, David Wright, Adrián González, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.

As for how he’ll approach bonding with his current teammates, he said he’ll let natural conversations develop throughout camp.

“A lot of that stuff happens in the cage, around the cage, in the clubhouse,” Turner said. “We had a good little rounder today with some of the guys in there just talking about our experiences with different teammates and what they’re like playing with and telling funny stories — so I think that’s how it starts.”

While Turner has only been around the team for a few days, Blue Jays manager John Schneider said he’s made a strong early impression as someone who can be a steady leader.

“For a guy that’s been around as long as he has, it just comes natural for that to come out and he’s got a good feel to where he’s not going to come in and stomp around and say, ‘Listen to me.’ He’s going to get to know everybody and I think just his overall game just gives him a ton of credibility with how he goes about it,” Schneider said. “Guys are going to be anxious to talk to him.”

As much as the Blue Jays are hoping Turner makes an impact off the field, he was primarily brought in to help them on the field. Even at 39, Turner remains an above-average hitter at the plate. For the Red Sox last year, he hit .276/.345/.455 with 23 home runs and 96 RBIs in 146 games.

“I think what he brings is obviously his production at the plate and after that, I think his experiences both regular season, postseason is a big add for our clubhouse and the guys that we do have here,” Schneider said. “He loves talking hitting. You’ll probably see him and Bo all the time together talking hitting. JT is a guy, he’s really made himself into what he is, and has awesome insight for the guys.”

The Blue Jays plan to use Turner primarily at DH, where he played 98 of his games last year. But depending on lineup configurations, Turner could see time at first and third base. While Turner’s defensive metrics have been on a downward trajectory in recent years, he took ground balls at third base on Monday and said he’ll be prepared for whatever way the Blue Jays plan to use him in what’s become a crowded infield picture.

“There’s a lot of guys that can move around the infield, play a lot of places, obviously Bo’s going to be at short and Vladdy’s going to be at first, but when you look at the rest of the guys, and the ability to be flexible, move around, play good defence, there’s a reason this team won a Gold Glove for their team defence last year, so excited to be a part of it,” Turner said.

With as much experience as he has, Turner knows exactly what he needs to do to prepare for the regular season. That typically means getting in as many at-bats as possible. Whether he takes them in Grapefruit Leagues games or on the back fields against one of the Blue Jays pitchers, he’s using every situation over these next six weeks to get locked in.

“You’re always competing in those things, especially against our pitchers. When you’re jumping in there, you let them get the best of you, you’re going to hear about it for a while,” Turner said with a grin. “It’s not a switch. You don’t just turn it on, you go in there and as soon as you step in that box, the competitive juices start flowing and you want to be successful.”

Indeed, Turner has experienced a lot of success over his career, and the hope is that it continues in Toronto.

“I’m excited to be a part of that lineup and hopefully help these guys continue to grow and continue to improve,” Turner said. “And be here for them to lean on if they need anything.”

(Top photo of Justin Turner throwing during infield practice: Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press via Associated Press)

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