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Mudville: October 6, 2022 10:30 am PDT
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Jacob Turner

" I don’t know if there will ever be another time in my life where I’d have the opportunity to go live in another country for ten months at a time.”

What were you doing when you were 18 years old?

If you’re like me, probably sleeping until noon and goofing off instead of focusing on your freshman year of college.

If you’re like Jacob Turner, you were about to embark on a professional baseball career after signing for $5.5 million dollars.

We’re guessing most of you fall into the first category, so Jacob Turner is here to talk about his experience in this week’s installment of Spitballin’.

Growing up in St. Louis as a Cardinals fan, Turner dominated his high school competition to the tune of a 20-4 record. He earned a spot on the U18 Team USA Baseball squad and in the UnderArmour All-American Game. The consensus was that he was easily a top ten prep pitcher coming into the 2009 Major League Baseball Draft and most had him rated among the top five high school arms in the country.

He made a strong commitment to the University of North Carolina, choosing the Tar Heels over Vanderbilt. Coming from a family that valued education, Turner’s camp made it known that it would take a lot to divert him from pursuing his education.

The Tigers were willing to pony up.

According to Baseball America, Turner received a raw bonus of $4.7 million, which was the highest amount ever received by a high school pitcher. He was given a Major League contract and a spot on the 40-man roster, which placed him on the fast track to the Big Leagues.

Pretty nifty for someone who had just turned 18 less than two weeks before the draft.

Turner was indeed fast-tracked to the Majors, making his debut at the age of 20 in 2011 after spending just about a year and a half in the minors. He was the youngest pitcher to appear in a game in 2011 and the only position player younger than him that year was Mike Trout.

Turner’s career lasted seven seasons in the Majors and one in the KBO before retiring in 2019. After baseball, he drew on his experience of receiving his record-breaking signing bonus and founded JL Strategic Wealth, a successful financial venture that provides fiduciary wealth management for athletes, entertainers and second generation wealth.

He has an interesting and unique baseball journey and levels some fantastic life advice, so join us as we go Spitballin’ with Jacob Turner.

“Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander are arguably the two best pitchers of the generation and to be able to sustain that level of success for 15-plus years at the highest level is pretty amazing. It’s something that doesn’t get the appreciation it deserves and it’s the same for every sport.”

Thanks for joining us, Mr. Turner. I think you have a great message and love the advice you share on your social media platforms. I appreciate being able to share it with our readers. Let’s start out when you were young. What was baseball like for you growing up?

Baseball has always been such a big part of my life. My dad wasn’t a baseball player growing up; he was a competitive tennis player. But he got me and my brothers into baseball from the earliest time I can remember. One of my earliest baseball memories being from St. Louis was going to Cardinals games. It was hard not to be a huge Cardinals fan. Growing up through childhood, my brothers and I would always watch SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight on ESPN on repeat. All we cared about was baseball and what was going on in the baseball world.

Did you have any favorite players growing up?

Being a pitcher, I always loved watching Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson. Roger Clemens in particular. I really liked his style of pitching. He had a chip on his shoulder when he was pitching and wasn’t afraid to throw inside; something that has changed in the game today. If you throw inside, people get mad. Back then, it was expected.

Relief pitcher Jacob Turner #38 of the Washington Nationals pitches against the Oakland Athletics during the MLB game at Oakland Coliseum on June 3, 2017 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

You were drafted out of high school ninth overall by the Tigers in 2009. That was the draft with Stephen Strasburg, Mike Trout, Zach Wheeler and some other big time players. Can you take us through your draft experience?

Going into draft day, I really didn’t know if I was going to get picked. I had a really strong commitment to the University of North Carolina and had a strong family behind me. My parents are huge believers in education. For me, professional sports was the icing on the cake. If it happened out of high school, that was great.

But I was really excited about pursuing a college degree and baseball at the University of North Carolina and then seeing where the professional landscape took me. When draft day came, we had put out a pretty big number in order for a team to potentially sign me away from North Carolina. There was a lot of moving parts, but it was an extremely exciting time and something I’ll never forget.

You mentioned the signing bonus and have talked about it on your Twitter feed. Take us into the mindset of an 18 year old kid who receives a $5.5 million signing bonus.

It’s really unique. I went from having just enough money to pay for gas and maybe go see a movie to having enough money to buy whatever I wanted. With that comes a lot of responsibility. You want to make sure you’re being a good steward of the money that you earn and at the same time, I had to figure out who needed to be on the team around me to make sure that I take care of it to really set myself up to whatever I do after baseball. One thing my parents really did a nice job on was to instill in me and my brothers that baseball was something that we did, but it wasn’t who we were. What I mean by that is at some point, you’re not going to be a baseball player anymore and you’re going to move on to whatever you’re going to do next and you’re probably going to do that for longer than you played baseball. Instilling that in me early helped me be responsible with the money.

That’s a great perspective and in doing my research for this, I see you credit your parents a lot for your development. Can you expand a little on the influence they had in your life and career?

In the seat that I am in now where I help young athletes, one of the biggest drivers in success for young athletes is the support system they have around them. Professional sports is a very cut-throat business when it comes to the ups and downs that happen. The emotional swings and the highs and lows. When I see guys who are successful, they have a good support system around them, whether it’s family or friends. There are people that are in their corner no matter what and I certainly had that with my family.

Jacob Turner #50 of the Detroit Tigers looks on from the dugout during the interleague game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Comerica Park on June 21, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan. The Tigers defeated the Cardinals 2-1 in 10 innings. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

That’s awesome and very true. Moving to some on-field questions. I believe you’re the first person I have interviewed who played in the MLB Futures Game. What was that experience like for you?

I can remember vividly getting picked for the game. We were in Reading, Pennsylvania, which was AA for the Phillies. I was playing for the Erie SeaWolves and I had just got done playing catch. I was coming into the locker room and got pulled aside and was told I had been picked for the game. I knew about the game and was really excited to go. You get to be a quasi-Big League All-Star for like a day-and-a-half because it happens right before the All-Star Game. They put you up in the same hotel [as the MLB All-Stars] and you’re getting pretty much the same treatment.

Ours was at Chase Field, so I got to be in a Big League clubhouse and pitch on a Major League field. I played that game with a lot of guys that you knew would have gonna have successful Big League careers. It was a really cool experience and something that I still remember very vividly to this day.

Less than three weeks later, you made your Major League debut starting a game against the Angels as a 20-year-old. That Tigers team was great, losing in the ALCS to the Rangers. What was it like being around a roster loaded with talent and managed by Jim Leyland?

I felt like as a 20-year-old, you’re so naïve that you don’t really know what’s going on. Looking back, we had a really great veteran team. There were a lot of guys who helped me make that transition to the Big Leagues. It was fun to be a very small part of that 2011 team and in 2012 too. Those teams went to the playoffs and did really well. It was a great learning experience for me.

Jacob Turner #44 of the Miami Marlins poses for a portrait at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on February 22, 2018 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

When you came up to that Tigers team in 2011, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer were at the top of the rotation for the Tigers. 11 years later, they’re still dominant starters. What do you think now when you see those guys out there still being so successful?

It’s pretty amazing in sports, we look at people who have success on a yearly basis and glorify that. I think as an athlete looking at it, what I see is these athletes who are able to sustain success over a long period of time. Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander are arguably the two best pitchers of the generation and to be able to sustain that level of success for 15-plus years at the highest level is pretty amazing. It’s something that doesn’t get the appreciation it deserves and it’s the same for every sport. If you look at tennis and what Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have done. Look at golf and the run that Tiger Woods had. To be able to sustain at that level for so long is incredible. As someone who played at a high level, the appreciation that I have for their ability to do that is amazing.

It surely is. Being a Cardinals fan and growing up in St. Louis, what was it like for you to come back and pitch on the mound at Busch Stadium?

It was really cool. Being a Cardinals fan and growing up there, to be able to come back and pitch at a stadium where I saw all my heroes play at was really cool. Having my family be at the games was great as well.

I like to ask pitchers about their hitting during these interviews. You never hit a homer, but you did leg out a triple, which might be rarer for a pitcher. Do you remember your triple?

I remember that very vividly. Paul Maholm was pitching and he wasn’t throwing very hard. I always hit better off lefties, even going back to high school. I hit a ball in the gap and BJ Upton was playing centerfield. Most times when a pitcher hits a ball in the gap, they’re happy to cruise into second and be happy with a double. About halfway to second base, I noticed that BJ was coasting for the ball and I was like, “OK, well I guess I’m going to third!” I can remember turning to second base and almost falling because I was slowing down and then had to speed up. This wasn’t something I had a lot of practice with. The guys gave me a pretty hard time about it afterwards and I think we had it on repeat in the clubhouse with me going around second base and almost falling.

Jacob Turner #29 of the Chicago White Sox pitches during the game against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on August 14, 2016 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)

That’s a great story. This is why I always have to ask about pitchers hitting. You played for five teams in seven years and had a number of pitching coaches and managers. Were there any of them that stand out to you as coaches who helped you further your career?

There were certainly a lot, but one person who stood out for me in particular was Mike Maddux. Mike was the pitching coach when I was with the Nationals. I found his style of approaching the game from a pitching standpoint to be really useful for how I thought about the game. I thought he did a really nice job being able to take complex ideas and translate them to the individual players. He really took an interest in the individual players.

You spent a year in South Korea playing in the KBO. How was your experience there playing overseas and adapting to a totally new culture?

It was a stage in my career where I was really excited to go do it. Frankly, it was a really cool experience. I don’t know if there will ever be another time in my life where I’d have the opportunity to go live in another country for ten months at a time. My family came over there for about half the time. At the time, I had three young kids, so for them to be able to experience a culture outside of the United States and see how other people live was an eye-opening experience.

How did you find the baseball over there?

From a baseball standpoint, it was a lot of fun. They have great fans and the league is very competitive. It’s certainly a different style of baseball and I really enjoyed it. The atmosphere was kind of like the Premiere League in soccer, but on a smaller scale. The fans would chant and fill up the stadiums. I can remember a game where there couldn’t have been more than 25,000 fans and it was the loudest I ever heard a stadium when I was pitching. They were so engaged in the game.

You started your professional career in 2009 and it came to an end in South Korea in 2019. During that time, there was a big shift in theory in pitching training and pitching theory. How was your own experience as the game, especially pitching, transitioned that way?

When I first started, we didn’t use weighted balls and didn’t have a lot of the technology they do today. There wasn’t as much an emphasis on velocity, although it was still important. There wasn’t an actionable way to consistently throw harder or get more out of your body. It’s been interesting to see the transition, which kind of happened halfway through my career. Around 2014 or 2015 you started to hear about analytics and Driveline and things of that nature. Frankly, I think it’s good for the game. I think there are some elements of it that take away from the strategic elements that I love about baseball, but at the same time, it’s hard to argue with the numbers. It’s hard to argue against guys getting the maximum ability out of their bodies.

That’s incredible. Now on to a couple of post-baseball questions for you. You founded JL Strategic Wealth after your career was over. Could you tell us what your company does and why you founded it?

I founded a registered investment advisory firm called JL Strategic Wealth. We specifically help folks who are navigating sudden wealth. It’s a lot of the same complexities I dealt with when I got drafted and signed for a lot of money. We are focused on helping athletes and entrepreneurs and people who get a lot of money in a short period of time through second generation wealth. I call it stepping in as a financial quarterback. We help to build out and steward the money they come into to make sure they’re being a good steward of that money. We want to make sure it can support whatever lifestyle they choose to live.

When you were a player, Scott Boras was your agent. Did you learn any business lessons from him that you carry over into JL Strategic Wealth?

I would say yes, but more so from a business-building standpoint. Scott has built arguably the greatest sports agency in the world as of today. Some of the conversations I had with him about the steps he took to do that have been really helpful for my business.

This has been great and it’s awesome to see you’re so successful in your post-baseball career after being away from the game for such a short amount of time. Thank you for taking the time with us. One last question for you as we wrap it up. What are your final reflections on your baseball career as you look back on playing the sport you love?

It was a fun run. For me, there were a lot of lessons learned along the way. My career was certainly not a linear straight line towards success. I had a lot of success and a lot of failures. There were a lot of struggles in between. There were a lot of things that happened in the moment that I didn’t understand why they were happening, but all those things have set me up really well in my business and also just how I live my life. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything in the world. Professional baseball is the greatest job in the world. Like any job, there are challenges to it, but at the end of the day, you get to play a game that you love. You get to play a game that you played since you were a child at the highest level of competition and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.       

Rocco is a baseball writer with too much time on his hands who lives in the dusty corners of Baseball Reference. He was one half of the battery for the 1986 Belleville Recreation Farm League Champion Indians. He likes early 20th century baseball nicknames, pullover polyester jerseys and Old Hoss Radbourn. He works as a College Athletics Director and his second book will be out in April 2021.

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