After injury derailed his junior season with the Portland Pilots, Turner Gill turns in solid year with the Bend Elks

by: BILLY GATES/THE PIONEER - Madras' Turner Gill, seen here playing for the Bend Elks of the West Coast League, used this summer to regain his hitting stroke following an abdominal injury that caused him to miss nearly his entire junior season at the University of Portland.Turner Gill didn't have a plan to play summer baseball this year.

The two-time All-West Coast Conference outfielder from the University of Portland, coming off offseason back surgery, had intentions on being selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

And why wouldn't he? He led the Pilots in hitting his freshman and sophomore years (and almost every other offensive category), earning a spot on the Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American team, and he was draft-eligible at the end of this season. All he had to do was continue the path he was on.

"I had faith in my ability to play, so I didn't really have a back-up plan when it came to baseball in the summer," Gill said.

Plans changed.

An abdominal tear sidelined the former Madras High School standout, and he played seven games during his junior season with the Pilots, thus making the slugger essentially undraftable. He needed a place to not just get crucial at-bats, but he needed a place to get back into baseball, period.

So, he came home.

Turner returned to Central Oregon to play in the West Coast League, a summer baseball league made up of collegiate players from the United States, for the Bend Elks.

by: BILLY GATES/THE PIONEER - Turner Gill hit .288 with three home runs and 29 RBIs for the Bend Elks this season. In two years at the University of Portland, before an abdominal injury cut his junior year short, Gill hit .322.After suffering the ab tear, which Gill said was a "random freak thing," when he learned he would be out for the season, he called Elks owner Jim Richards to hopefully get something set up to play in the summer. Gill played for the Elks in 2010, so it wasn't like Richards was taking a flyer on Gill – Richards knew he could play and help the ballclub – so Gill suited up this summer.

While the season ended without a trip to the playoffs, Gill said he was still able to accomplish what he set out to do.

"I just needed to get at-bats, see pitches and get healthy," Gill said. "I wanted to get back to where I was before the injury, and I think I was able to do that."

by: BILLY GATES/THE PIONEER - Turner Gill, seen here playing right field against the Walla Walla Sweets on Friday at Vince Genna Stadium in Bend, split time between the corner outfield spot and designated hitter this season.For the season, Gill played in 42 of Bend's 54 games, and hit .288 with three home runs and 29 RBIs. He tied for second on the team in homers, third in RBIs and led the team with 23 walks. He split time playing right field and designated hitter, which he said was beneficial to him and his continued recovery from the abdominal tear.

"Not having to play defense all the time helped me quite a bit," Gill said. "I was able to focus on hitting, and getting back to where I need to be."

While Gill likes playing defense, he said his hitting is going to be the key to making the next step in his baseball career. It's something he works tirelessly at, but he's backed off the heavy practice regimen for the time being to make sure his abdominals heal properly.

"I think after my back surgery, my muscles were a little weak," Gill said. "So I haven't been taking cuts after practice a ton. I usually just take my 20 swings or so before a game, and that's it."

Gill also didn't work out quite as hard this summer, another precaution he is taking so he can remain healthy for the start of fall practice, which starts in early September for the Pilots.

"The main thing is to be healthy; that's what the coaches (at Portland) want," Gill said. "We're at school with them for a long time before the season starts, so they don't put a ton of emphasis on summer ball, but they still want you to get at-bats and be healthy."

Rather than lose his third year of eligibility, Gill was able to use his redshirt season – a one-year free pass, essentially – to recover from the injury and keep two years of eligibility. He’ll be a senior from an academic perspective, but still a junior when it comes to athletic eligibility.

Redshirt seasons are typically used for incoming freshmen that need more time to mature and adapt to the level of play and keep all four years of eligibility, but redshirts can also be used in cases of season-ending injuries.

And if Gill gets back to the level he produced during his first two years as a Pilot, it will be tough for a big league ballclub to pass him up. In his two full seasons at Portland, Gill hit .322 with eight home runs, 63 RBIs with an OPS (on base plus slugging) of .870.

Gill knows the work isn't done, though. He has to put in his time, and he's not going to cut any corners. A former high school All-American and Class 5A state player of the year as a White Buffalo, Gill is primed to give the Pilot fans at Joe Etzel Field something to cheer about.

"My body feels good, and I have confidence in myself," Gill said. "You just have to work hard, and everything will sort itself out."

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