Hard knuckler is Turley's ticket to Detroit

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Whether he makes it as a starter, or as one of those essential, long-relief specialists who can save a bullpen from too much overtime, they say Josh Turley has a chance.

A real chance to crack the big leagues and help a team such as the Tigers who, interestingly, could right now use — at the very least — a long reliever.

"He's got enough to make a club," said Mike Henneman, who is pitching coach at the Tigers' Double A connection, Erie. "His knuckleball has gotten better, and he throws it hard, really hard.

"It's not that 60-miles-per-hour stuff you sometimes see on TV. He throws it hard, and it moves everywhere. People laugh: A left-hander throwing a knuckleball? But he is a joy to watch. Because he's going to keep you in a game and compete."

Turley, 24, is 2-0 for Erie, with a 1.64 ERA, an equally sharp 1.18 WHIP, and a .231 opposing batting average. They're consistent with minor-league numbers rolled up since Turley was grabbed in the 16th round from Baylor in 2012: 24-9, 2.17 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, in 92 games, 24 of which have been starts, spanning three Single A teams (Connecticut, West Michigan, and Lakeland), as well as Erie.

Turley has a fastball that doesn't move much above 90 mph. He has a slider, a curveball, a cutter, and a change-up. And last season, mostly after discovering a novelty pitch while playing catch, he showed a knuckleball that was so rambunctious it struck the nose of teammate Guido Knudson, who completely missed snaring it.

Henneman and scouts who have studied Turley say the knuckler is his big-league pass. They would urge him to throw it more often. It's a project that will be discussed and refined as a man 6-foot and 185 pounds works at Erie.

"I haven't seen a lot of guys like this," said Henneman, who also was Turley's pitching coach at West Michigan. "He locates that fastball in and out, he commands all his pitches, and he's got the knuckleball, plus the makeup and personality to handle situations that get intense.

"I know he can do it (pitch in the big leagues). Nothing has changed. He's wise, and has gotten smarter. He knows he doesn't throw 95. But he knows how to pitch. And if it sounds like I'm bragging on him, I am.

"He's just a little gamer," said Henneman, a Tigers closer for nine years, who had 154 saves in Detroit. "What I look at, also, is makeup and personality, and can you handle 40,000, or 50,000, in the stands? And absolutely he can.

"It's not my call, it's just my opinion. But in the big leagues I would see him as a long man who keeps you in the game. Somebody has a rough outing and you bring in Josh Turley. He's going to give you innings (galore), and battle, and provide full effort.

"He's going to give you everything he's got."

Turley has something of a sweep going within the Tigers system. He was (Single A) Connecticut Pitcher of the Year the summer he was drafted in 2012. He followed up in 2013 as West Michigan Pitcher of the Year and added Single A Lakeland to his Pitcher of the Year trophies in 2014.

Trophies are nice. But the reason Turley is riding buses and dealing with meager meal money is because he has something loftier in mind: the big leagues.