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In the second round of any year's baseball draft the Tigers happily choose a pitcher if he fits a handful of criteria.

How well (hard) does he throw? How big and durable is he? Is he advanced in the genetics of a college pitcher, or is he a teenager fresh from high school with plus-potential that makes him a more defensible second-round pick?

The Tigers opted for all of the above, with the college kid winning out, when last June they made Alabama right-hander Spencer Turnbull their second pick in the 2014 draft.

Turnbull is stitching together his first full season in professional baseball in 2015 and is sticking to a club's flight plan.

He is 3-1 for Single A West Michigan, has a 3.03 ERA, and in his last two starts has allowed two earned runs spread among 10 innings. Turnbull is 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, and has a fastball that meshes with his size and with his age, which is 22.

"He's been as high as 98, and normally runs in the low-to-mid 90s," said Mark Johnson, the former Tigers pitcher who is West Michigan's pitching coach. "He's got a power slider, a swing-and-miss slider that could be a plus pitch.

"His change-up and curveball — he's still trying to learn himself a little bit there. But he's definitely a power pitcher, and that change-up is going to help him because of the speed separation. His fastball's got good movement, and his two-seam at times has hard sink at the plate.

"He's got the stuff. He's fine-tuning it. He's an intelligent kid who likes to ask questions."

Turnbull is from Madison, Mississippi, but pitched at Alabama where, like most of the land's better prospects, his junior year became his audition season for the big-league draft. He had a 2.22 ERA in 15 starts for the Crimson Tide in 2014 and had hits-per-innings numbers that were particularly sharp: 61 in 931/3.

He signed shortly after the Tigers grabbed him and had the usual late introduction to professional baseball. Turnbull made 11 starts at Single A Connecticut, had a 4.45 ERA and a .270 opposing batting average in 281/3innings.

His strikeout-to-walks ratio for the Whitecaps could use some polishing, for sure: 24 punch-outs, 16 walks in 29 2/3 innings. But, again, only 23 hits, which better explains why a man with an industrial-strength arm at this point has the power but not the command a big-league rotation requires.

The change-up, of course, tends to be most pitchers' problem child once they put on a pro uniform. Managers and pitching coaches dwell on an off-speed pitch and often give their pitchers a quota or ratio of change-ups they want thrown in a particular game.

Often, what happens is the pitcher will get into a bind and will revert to more comfortable choices — usually a fastball or a breaking pitch that is more natural than that new change-up he's trying to master.

"We talk about one all the time, with all of our guys," Johnson said. "I want them to use their off-speed pitch during a game because they want to throw it, not because we've told them to use it. You want them to have confidence in that pitch.

"I tell them a story about myself. I didn't have the best change-up, but the next thing you know, I'm in the big leagues (Detroit in 2000), and I didn't have one. I tell them about my difficulties and the importance of developing a pitch at the lower levels."

And so there is work to do at West Michigan. Turnbull's lesson plan includes adjusting to professional baseball's routine. College starters generally pitch once a week. In pro ball, turns are more frequent, even when you use a six-man rotation, as do the Whitecaps, who at this lower rung of a team's farm system are bringing along pitchers steadily minus an overload of innings.

"He's adapting," Johnson said. "There are so many things to learn at this level. He's learning, for example, to watch swings as part of determining what pitch to throw next. Reading swings is simply part of the game."

So, too, is the adjustment from metal to wood bats. Moving from college and its bat-pings to professional baseball's ash and maple bats is considered more of a reorientation for hitters.

But pitchers learn realities there, as well.

"A wood bat breaks, so pitching inside is key in pro baseball," said Johnson, who pitched at the University of Hawaii. "In college, if you throw inside, a guy can get jammed and can still get a base hit. A lot of times pitchers up here (minor leagues) forget that pitching inside is different, and necessary."

Most of West Michigan's higher-profile pitchers in 2015 are relievers: Joe Jimenez, Paul Voelker, Johan Belisario, Gabe Speier, Gabe Hemmer, etc.

But there has been enough substance from the starters (Ross Seaton, A.J. Ladewig, Fernando Perez, Turnbull, and others) to have given Whitecaps manager Andrew Graham the most consistent early pitching of any outpost in the Tigers farm system.

Still, the emphasis is on teaching and developing. And for a man with an arm that's big on strength and light on finesse, West Michigan's classroom sessions will continue.

lynn.henning@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/Lynn_Henning

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