When infielder Shane Turner was at Cal State Fullerton, he was recognized more for his defensive ability than for his hitting.
And, although Turner has proven that he can hit the ball, too, his defense is probably what will get him to the big leagues.
Turner is playing second base with the Reading Phillies in the double-A Eastern League. When he was with Philadelphia's triple-A team in Maine at the beginning of the season, he played third base almost exclusively. And in spring training with the major league club, he played shortstop.
"The quickest way to the big leagues is versatility," Turner said.
At Fullerton, Turner's strong suit was consistency, both in the infield and at the plate. He hit .292 as a freshman, .305 as a sophomore and .276 as a junior in 1984, the year the Titans won the NCAA championship. But Turner wasn't drafted after his junior year, so he decided to pick up the offensive pace to make himself more attractive to major league scouts.
"My years there we had such good offensive teams," Turner said. "Even if you did well, you still got overshadowed by players like Bob Caffrey and John Fishel."
So, as a senior, Turner stepped out of the shadows and led the Titans in hitting with a .406 average. And he was drafted in June, 1986, by the New York Yankees.
In 1986, with Class-A Fort Lauderdale, Turner hit .320. Last season, he spent about a month with the Yankees' triple-A team in Columbus and a month with the Albany double-A team. On June 10, he was traded to the Phillies and landed in Reading.
Last season was Turner's best. With Reading, he hit .339, drove in 47 runs and scored 50.
"Last year, I was consistent from Day 1 to the last day of the season," Turner said.
At the beginning of this year, he had an excellent spring training and was one of the final five players cut from the major league roster. He started the season with Maine of the triple-A International League, but suddenly he was struggling.
"I felt like I forgot how to hit," Turner said. "I couldn't find anything that worked."
So, six weeks ago, Turner came back to Reading.
"I had mixed emotions about it," he said. "I think I proved I could play at this level. I felt I should have had the opportunity to spend all season there (in Maine). But I'm not going to sulk or show anger. I'm just working on my hitting."
Turner, 25, is hitting .298. And, despite his fluctuation on offense, he continues to be a steady infielder, no matter what position he plays.
"I feel I'm good enough to play every day, but I may get (to the major leagues) quicker as a utility man," Turner said.
The Phillies, who are in last place in the National League East, recently traded utilityman Luis Aguayo to the Yankees. Third baseman Mike Schmidt is 39 years old, and second baseman Juan Samuel and shortstop Steve Jeltz are both 28, and the Phillies will eventually need young, versatile infielders.
And Turner is ready.
"I think I'm an opportunity away," Turner said. "The team is struggling and they'll probably call people up in September. I'm almost there, and the one day I put on my major league uniform and play next to Mike Schmidt and Samuel, all this will be worth it."
Add Turner: Unlike so many minor leaguers, Turner is close enough to the major league team's city to take in an occasional game. Reading is about an hour from Philadelphia.
"I go out there and watch games, but I don't watch them like a fan," he said. "I picture myself on the field, I feel people watching me. It's an inspiration. I feel like rushing back to Reading to work even harder."
Add Fullerton graduates: Mike Harkey continues to be touted as one of the best young pitchers in the minor leagues. The American Assn. named Harkey, who is with the triple-A Iowa Cubs, as its pitcher of the week.
Harkey, 2-0 with a 1.76 earned-run average, pitched a one-hit shutout last week against the Omaha Royals.
"I'm pitching as well as I ever have," Harkey said. "I'm having a good time out there." And the Cub organization is having fun watching Harkey.
Peter Pascarelli wrote in the "N.L. Beat" column in the current Sporting News:
"One reason why Chicago can even talk about trading (Rick) Sutcliffe is Mike Harkey, the Cubs' top draft choice in 1987, who overmatched the competition in double A.
" 'There have been two leagues in the Eastern League,' said one scout. 'Harkey and everybody else.'
"Harkey has since been promoted to triple A, and the Cubs think he might be able to help them by August."
But Jim Frey, the Cubs' executive vice president, sounds a little more cautious. In a recent interview on WGN-TV, Frey said: "There is no question that (Harkey) is the outstanding pitcher in our organization in the minor leagues right now. But I would hate to have him come up, get hit around and destroy all the good things that have happened for him so far."
Add former Titans: John Fishel, who was ripping up the Pacific Coast League with the Tucson Toros, was called up by the Astros last Thursday. Fishel, who played in last week's minor league All-Star game, was hitting .288 with Tucson, with 16 home runs and 60 RBIs.
In his second major league at-bat, at Philadelphia on Saturday, Fishel singled.
Garden Grove's Mike Batesole, who was hitting .388 with the Dodgers Vero Beach Class-A team, was moved up to double-A San Antonio two weeks ago.
One of his first games with San Antonio was the longest game in Texas League history, and was believed to be the longest scoreless game in the history of professional baseball.
San Antonio and the Jackson Mets went a total of 26 innings, 25 of which were played Friday night. After 7 hours and 10 minutes, the score was 0-0. They came back on Saturday and played just 13 minutes before San Antonio scored in the bottom of the 26th.