Many Division I college baseball players have played for St. Clair over the years.
That includes Jake Cronenworth, who the Sporting News just named its National League Rookie of the Year, as well as, most recently, Ryan Zimmer, who just signed with Michigan this past school year.
Jacob Turner will be adding his name to that list in about a year, as the St. Clair junior recently verbally committed to Bowling Green after the pitcher saw quite the upswing in recruiting attention throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Getting recruited by the Falcons
Turner has dreamed about playing college baseball, but he had always looked at himself as more of a D-II prospect than one who would land in the Mid-American Conference.
His odds of becoming a D-I pitcher increased after he attended a Prep Baseball Report scouting event last January. While there he registered official speeds for each of his pitches, which included him throwing his fastball at 87 mph.
“After that day, I got a floodgate of emails like crazy from college coaches, and even my own coach was getting emails and calls,” Turner told the Times Herald on Tuesday afternoon.
His combine performance earned him an invitation to pitch for Team Michigan in the PBR Northeast Futures Game this past August in DuBois, Pennsylvania. He started the third game of the series, pitched three shutout innings, struck out five and gave up just one single. He reached 86 mph on the speed gun.
Bowling Green’s coaching staff reached out quickly. Turner received an offer from the Falcons and pledged his commitment not too long after establishing a relationship with coach Kyle Hallock.
“I had about five calls with Coach Hallock, and he’s been a super guy,” Turner said. “I wasn’t able to do any campus visits because of COVID-19, but I went on an admissions visit, which was fine and within the rules. From that one visit, I really fell in love with the school. The campus was beautiful and awesome.”
Turner said he’s excited to learn from Hallock, who pitched at Kent State and was drafted by the Houston Astros in the 10th round of the 2011 MLB June Amateur Draft.
Developing as a pitcher
Turner currently plays for the D Las Vegas National Showcase Team out of Farmington, but he truly started developing his skill set as a pitcher with the Michigan Brewers Baseball Club when he was 14 years old.
He got plenty of guidance from current SC4 head baseball coach Nick Black, who is also on the Brewers’ coaching staff.
“We got our hands on him when he was really young, and he really wasn’t there physically yet,” Black said. “But two years ago we saw him pitch and said, ‘Holy crap, we’ve got something here.’ But we also saw a funky delivery. So we shut down his throwing completely and limited his amount of innings. He could throw hard, but we wanted to make some tweaks to his mechanics.”
The Brewers put Turner through its technical development program to make his throwing motion more efficient.
They limited his appearances on the mound until he corrected that “funky delivery.” Black had Turner play outfield and hit toward the top of the Brewers’ lineup until he eventually solidified himself as a pitcher.
“He had leaps and bounds of success,” Black said. “We saw his velocity jump as well as his command. It’s made him into the player that he is today. It just came down to Jacob learning his body and what steps he needed to take to get the most out of it. He’s still young and only 16, so he’s really only now just developing into a baseball player, but he’s a great athlete and fits in well anywhere.”
On top of having a cannon for an arm, Turner said his mental toughness is what makes him stand out on the mound. He doesn’t let challenging pitching scenarios impact his approach to the game. No jam is too tough for Turner to pitch out of, which is something the Falcons also liked about his play.
Black said he’s excited to see how well Turner plays for the Falcons in 2022-23.
“Bowling Green is getting a guy with a lot of untapped potential and a lot of room to grow,” Black said. “With the level they play at, he could step in immediately and impact them out of the bullpen. Once he develops, gets into their nutritional program and gets some meat on his bones, he’ll be able to contend for a weekly rotational spot at the college level.
“They should be excited about the potential and upside he has as someone who is really just starting to scratch the surface. He’s hitting 85-87 mph off the bump, and he’s not even that big of a kid yet. As he develops his body and mechanics, he’ll definitely get attention from pro teams beyond college.”
Strengthing his mental toughness
Turner actually credits his two years on St. Clair’s cross country team as an underclassman with helping him develop the mental toughness he has today.
As a novice, he battled the bumps, bruises and aches all runners deal with throughout the course of a season. Doing so helped the Saints ensure they’d get out of their regional as a team and qualify for the Division 2 state finals for a 20th straight season in 2019.
“Jacob is one of my favorite kids,” St. Clair cross country coach Tom Brenner said. “He came into cross country having never really done it before, but he’s a natural athlete and, more than anything, a really, really hard worker. He’s a really tough kid and probably even tougher than he can imagine.
“When you think about toughness, you think about football or wrestling where you have to outmuscle somebody. But cross country is tough physically and mentally. His toughness is what made him a great, great runner for us. He was a kid who realized he needed to grind every single day, and he learned a lot of similar lessons throughout his team as a cross country runner.”
As a sophomore, Turner finished worse than 25th only twice, which includes him placing in the top-20 three times. His personal best in the 5 kilometers was 17 minutes, 23 seconds, which is a competitive time for an underclassman, even in St. Clair’s prestigious program.
He elected to step away from running after the baseball recruiting trail heated up for him over the summer.
“A moment that stands out to me was during regionals his sophomore year,” Brenner said. “We wanted to win regionals really, really badly. He came out and ran his guts out. His willingness to understand that cross country is about so much more than yourself but about the team really showed. After that race, he ran so hard that he went to the ground in pain because he had given every bit of energy and toughness he could possibly give his team. That’s why I think Jacob could be successful in anything he wants to be in. He works hard and wants to be there for his teammates, and those intangibles translate to anything in life.”
Brandon Folsom is the sports reporter at the Times Herald. Do you have a story idea? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to follow him on Twitter.