Above all, Spencer Turnbull is quiet. There isn’t anything wrong with him – quite the opposite, actually. He’s just far from what one might expect when one thinks of an elite SEC pitcher-turned-2nd-round-draft-pick.
“He approaches [baseball] different from a lot of other ballplayers,” Turnbull’s father, Jim Turnbull, said. “He’s always thinking, self-correcting, trying to improve, adjusting his mind, but he doesn’t talk to a lot of people about it. He just thinks it through on his own. It’s very internal of him, and every so often you see that ‘oomph’ or something that he would show after a really critical pitch he executed right. . . .It’s just different, because a lot of guys in baseball are really ‘rah-rah’ and very outgoing and very outspoken. He’s never had that bluster to him. He’s just let his actions take care of it.”
From the start, Spencer Turnbull was something of a contradiction: a young standout who didn’t have Major League Baseball in his plans until he’d already started his college career. His coaches felt he was so promising at such a young age that he skipped tee-ball as a five year old, his father said.
“He went straight to coach pitch,” Jim Turnbull said. “He hit the ball too hard.”
Even with that early sign, the Turnbulls said they weren’t certain of Spencer’s potential until much further down the road. It wasn’t until he was going through the recruitment process that the Turnbulls said they began to realize professional baseball was feasible.
“We didn’t really know how competitive he could be, and then in the fall baseball practices where he was trying to see if he could fit at Alabama at all, [pitching] coach [Dax] Norris came out one day and just basically said ‘Your boy’s gonna be okay,’” Jim Turnbull said.
Norris wasn’t wrong. Spencer Turnbull turned into a powerful fastballer, with his fastest pitch topping out a 98 mph, a rarity even in the majors. Spencer Turnbull, however, wasn’t on an athletic scholarship at Alabama. The pitcher is a National Merit Finalist, which earned him a full ?academic scholarship. Part of the reason Spencer Turnbull chose Alabama was the strength of its academic programs, his parents said.
“I think it was a big chunk of his decision making,” Jim Turnbull said.
Spencer Turnbull hasn’t finished his degree and left Alabama after his junior year, but before Major League Baseball came calling, he said academic standing was one of the most important criteria in his college decision.
“I think when I started the process, it was number one,” Spencer Turnbull said. “Well, I guess it wasn’t number one. Baseball was number one, but it was pretty much just as important.”
Spencer Turnbull’s mother, Missy Turnbull, is an Alabama alumna, and Jim Turnbull grew up as an Alabama football fan in New York.
“I didn’t grow up in the South, but I’ve always been an Alabama fan since I was a little boy, so it was awesome seeing him come out in that uniform,” Jim Turnbull said.
The Turnbulls are an Alabama family, which Spencer said made playing for the Crimson Tide that much more special.
“I grew up in Alabama, so I was always an Alabama fan,” Spencer Turnbull said. “At the end of the day, that’s always where I wanted to go.”
Spencer Turnbull said Alabama and the baseball coaching staff led by head coach Mitch Gaspard helped his growth in academic, athletic and personal ways.
“One of the biggest parts they helped me with when I got there was just growing up,” he said. “Learning to be more confident in my own ability, especially when I first got there, having a perseverance and a mindset that never gives in.”
Gaspard and his staff supplemented the competitive spirit that Spencer Turnbull said he was born with.
“I’ve always been super competitive, ever since I was a little kid,” he said. “That’s just kind of like who I am. It doesn’t show outwardly, but that’s just who I am. I’ve never been one to stop competing, especially on the mound.”
His time at Alabama has paid off for the Madison Central High School graduate. Spencer Turnbull, drafted in the second round by the Detroit Tigers, 63rd overall, just signed a contract with a $900,600 signing bonus. This is at once a surprise and the end of many years’ preparation.
“I didn’t know I was going to get picked that night until I heard my name called out on the TV, so that was really cool,” Spencer Turnbull said.
Spencer Turnbull is in Lakeland, Florida, at the Tigers’ training facility, but hopes to be playing for the Connecticut Tigers, Detroit’s single-A short-season affiliate soon. The Demopolis native said he’s grateful for his opportunities at Alabama.
“If I had gone somewhere else, I might not have gotten the same opportunities, or gotten drafted, or gotten drafted as high as I did,” he said. “Thanks again for them teaching me how to grow into the man I’m becoming. I might be wearing a Detroit uniform now, but I’m always going to be an ?Alabama fan.”