Vanderbilt's Xavier Turner swings first ... and every other chance he gets

Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 8:51pm

Xavier Turner attended the Anthony Gomez school of hitting.

He's never met a pitch he didn’t like.

The freshman will show some restraint but Turner doesn’t like to keep his bat idle. So far, pouncing early and often has paid off for the Vanderbilt third baseman.

Turner is batting .338 with 22 hits in 65 at-bats. He has also drawn 11 walks and struck out just six times.

“My approach has always been to hit the first pitch, hit the fastball,” Turner said. “I don’t really like to strike out too much. I’m just an aggressive guy. I just try to get on first base.”

Before he began his first season of college competition, Turner turned for advice to Gomez, a 2012 sixth-round draft pick now in his second season in the Miami Marlins organization.

Gomez thrived for three years with the Commodores thanks to a swing-first mentality. Taking the first pitch was a rare occurrence for the shortstop. And his aggressiveness paid off. He batted .354 for his career and struck out just 38 times in 755 at-bats.

The advice was simple — don’t be too selective.

“That is my thing — I just hit every pitch,” Turner said. “I have a lot of growing up to do at the plate [with] staying off some pitches. But I think I have a really good eye.”

He won’t receive any disagreement from his coach.

Tim Corbin plugged Turner in the bottom of the third of the lineup as designated hitter at the beginning of the season. When shortstop Dansby Swanson went out with a foot injury in February, Corbin moved Vince Conde to short and slotted Turner at third, where he has spent most of the last six weeks.

His ability to get on base moved him up the lineup. The right-handed hitter currently hits in the second spot, offering a potent punch behind leadoff hitter Tony Kemp.

“He is a tough out,” Corbin said. “He puts the ball in play. He is convicted and willing to go the other way. He sees breaking stuff pretty good and he hits fastballs. In my opinion he is a good, good college hitter. He has a chance to always hit for a high average because of those qualities right there.”

The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder hasn’t squandered opportunities born out of an on-base percentage of .358.

In 24 games, he has scored 22 runs and has stolen six bases in nine attempts. Corbin, who has a history of trusting freshmen, gave Turner a bold green light last week against Lipscomb. With the bases loaded and two outs, Turner broke from third and slipped by the catcher’s tag to steal home for the first time in his life.

“He always anticipates the ball out of the pitcher’s hand pretty well too and gets us a few extra 90s,” Corbin said. “He grabs a base when it is not there. That is a good member of our offense right now.”

A native of Sandusky, Ohio, Turner is one of 18 Vanderbilt players who have been drafted — the most on any collegiate roster.

Turner, who played summer ball with sophomore right-handed starter Tyler Beede, was selected in the 34th round of last year’s draft in the Boston Red Sox. But he opted to head to Vanderbilt and fine-tune his free-swinging mentality.

“The first day I got here I talked to some older kids on the team and they just told me to play like I’m in high school,” he said. “That really helped me settle in and calm down, just be patient and wait for my time. Every opportunity I get I try to make the best of it.”