Michael Turner

Graduate backstop Michael Turner catches a strike during the Razorbacks’ March 2 victory over Nebraska-Omaha at Baum-Walker Stadium. Turner has proven his ability as a skilled and consistent catcher after transferring to Arkansas this year and playing in the wake of Casey Opitz’s departure.

After veteran catcher Casey Opitz was selected by the Chicago Cubs with the 244th overall pick in the 2021 MLB Draft, Arkansas was left without a starting catcher. But the Diamond Hogs soon found a potential replacement in Kent State transfer and graduate backstop Michael Turner, who has already proven his worth behind the plate.

After entering his name in the portal following his senior season but prior to his Arkansas commitment, Turner was almost snatched up by another program, he said. However, a perfectly timed message from Arkansas hitting coach Nate Thompson changed his course. Although he was about to commit elsewhere, Thompson’s email led to a meeting with head coach Dave Van Horn the next day, and the rest is history.

Upon his arrival in Fayetteville, Turner found himself locked into a position battle for the starting catcher spot, but he was able to gain the trust of his coaches and teammates and earn the job before Opening Day.

So far, he has proven they were right about him, holding the highest batting average among Razorback starters at .342 and the second-most RBIs with 29 as of April 9. He is also having an excellent year defensively, remaining errorless and throwing out nine of 19 potential base stealers through 30 games.

“He’s been big for us this year,” head coach Dave Van Horn said after the Hogs’ series against Southeastern Louisiana. “He’s been catching really well, throwing people out, handling pitchers, blocking. I don’t know what else you could ask for.”

But Turner is not just making an impact on the field. Although he is more reserved than Opitz on the diamond and in the locker room, Turner has established himself as a team leader through hard work and dedication to his teammates.

“He leads by example,” sixth-year pitcher Zebulon Vermillion said. “He’s at the field a long time just because he likes to work hard. He’s always in the weight room trying to get better, always in the cage swinging. Even when we’re throwing bullpens during the week, he comes in when he can to catch us, even though we have a bullpen catcher.”

It is clear Turner has not shrunk from the challenge of supplanting Opitz. By watching video of the former Razorback and working with him in person, he has improved his defensive ability — especially his pitch receiving — and fostered a seamless transition behind the plate.

“(Opitz) was here a couple times in the offseason,” Turner said. “I just kind of watched him and how he managed the game. But yeah, it’s a big role to follow up. I’m just trying to fill his shoes the best I can.”

One might think a transition from the Mid-American Conference to the star-studded Southeastern Conference would make for a difficult adjustment, but Turner’s statistics remain consistent with his time at Kent State. His spot on the team as the starting catcher and middle-of-the-order bat is notable, especially considering he never caught before his senior year of high school. His experience playing third base and shortstop have also translated to some success filling in at first.

Both defensively and offensively, Turner has been one of Arkansas’ steadiest players and has played a crucial role following Opitz’s departure.

“We definitely needed somebody to step up, whether it was somebody we’ve had in the program or somebody new with Opitz leaving,” Vermillion said. “I think he’s done a tremendous job of filling a gap that we really needed behind the plate and especially in the batter’s box. He’s swinging as good as anybody right now.”

Although Turner’s consistency is visible when he is on the field, the hard work that contributes to it comes when nobody is watching.

“I think it’s a lot of hard work behind the scenes,” Turner said. “Me and my roommate at Kent, there’s no doubt we were the hardest workers on the team, and I’d still like to think that now. Nobody really sees it, but when I first moved here, I was living in the (JB and Johnelle Hunt Family Baseball Development Center). There are just so many things to do in there from working out, to watching video.”

As a graduate transfer, 2022 is the last year of Turner’s collegiate eligibility. With it, he hopes to lead the Razorbacks to a College World Series title while making the most of his final months in Fayetteville.

“This is my last year of college baseball and there’s no other place in the country I would rather finish it out,” Turner said. “The experience is unbelievable. I’m just trying to have as much fun as I can, win as many games as I can while I’m here and do anything I can to help the team win.”

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