PHOENIX — Across half a decade, American Family Fields — the Milwaukee Brewers’ spring training facility — kept a former MLB first-round draft pick connected to his dream.
After being selected by the Brewers in 2018, an 18-year-old Brice Turang was tossed into the organization’s farm system with all of the attached toil. The highly touted Turang was among as many peers as grown adults scraping day by day so they could eventually walk up the steps of an MLB dugout from the months of April to November. And his $3.4 million signing bonus did not buy him any guarantees.
Through the minor leagues, Turang, an infielder, was pegged with the pressures that came with an almost perpetual rookie status. Almost.
Every March subsequent to his first spring session, he found continuity alongside his MLB counterparts. And by 2023, Turang was a familiar face in the Phoenix clubhouse – named with one less s than his dream destination at American Family Field in Milwaukee.
“No matter where you go, it’s your teammates, your coaches, the staff whom make it feel like home,” Turang told Cronkite News. “So yeah, of course this feels like home. I’ve been around a lot of these guys for my whole career.”
Throughout this past spring training, Brewers manager Craig Counsell said he expected Turang, now 23, to reach the majors at some point this season. Without knowing when, Turang did know the everyday routine he relied on to establish himself as a professional. So he just stuck to that and waited, bolstered by his dad Brian Turang, a former major leaguer.
Drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 51st round of the 1989 MLB Draft, the elder Turang spent roughly as many seasons in the minors as his son before getting his 1993 call-up — but at a much older age (26) because of a prior stint at Loyola Marymount University.
“You can’t control what they do,” Brian said. “It’s going to happen eventually and you’re going to be there for a long time. It’s just, you can’t control it. You got to just keep doing you and keep focusing on what you need to do to maximize your potential and show them that, ‘Hey, you know what, I’m ready to roll.’”
Amid persistent injury problems, Brian’s career was cut short after appearing in just 78 major-league games with the Mariners — a feat Brice may surpass in a matter of months now, thanks to favorable timing.
Soon after the long-awaited conversation with Counsell that had Brice in disbelief at his inclusion on the Brewers Opening Day roster, starting utility infielder Luis Urias sustained an injury that freed up an unforeseen amount of playing time for Brice and other backups to fight over.
Nine games in, Brice appears to have the upper hand with an error-less six starts at second base in which he has flashed the offensive improvements he made as part of his Triple-A breakout last season when he addressed general concerns on his pop at the plate. It almost instantly paid off on April 3 with a grand slam that lifted the Brewers to a home-opener win over the Mets. Brice’s stat line since his March 30 MLB debut – a .294 batting average and .368 on-base percentage, accompanied by five RBIs, four walks and a home run – may make it difficult to keep him off the field in Urias’ absence, which may end as early as mid-May or as late as June.
So much has fallen into place for the former prospect, but make no mistake: Brice rose to the occasion, readied by a slew of past exchanges with Brian that steadied his patience while 18 other 2018 first-rounders made their MLB debuts.
They waited for his turn, together.
“Down deep in my heart, did I want him to follow my footsteps? Of course,” Brian said. “I mean, any dad would want that for their kid.”
It happened, and he was in attendance for his son’s debut in Chicago. But such support wasn’t conditional. He and Brice echoed each other, advocating against the idea that any sport solely defined their relationship or that of their family as a whole. Each of Brice’s older sisters — Brianna, Carissa, Cabria and Bailee — competed in collegiate sports because they wanted to, not because they were expected to.
After Brianna concluded her University of Oklahoma softball career with a national championship in 2013, it was as much her choice to play professionally for a year as it was when she then opted to retire.
That same autonomy applied to Brice, who just so happened to share his dad’s passion for baseball from a young age.
“If he chose not to, OK, that’s fine,” Brian said.
“I lived my dream for a little bit. … I’m not going to live my life through you.”
He instead helped Brice live out his own vision, similar as it was. Building and bettering his mindset from phone call to phone call with his father, Brice’s recent success amid the sudden changes has been a byproduct of the person he already embodied because of the challenges he already encountered and the lessons he already embraced.
“He just wanted to be like my dad,” Brianna said. “He’s the only boy in our family of all girls and so I remember growing up, his room was like a Seattle Mariners room because that’s where dad played. He just wanted to be like my dad, and he was like, ‘I’m going to make it.’ And my dad will be like, ‘Alright, man, but you just got to work. You got to work, it’s not easy,’ and he sure as heck does.”
Outside of the overall advancements any minor leaguer must achieve, adding power at the plate was an emphasis that Brice especially struggled with early in his professional career. Accruing time at every level after three seasons in the Brewers’ farm system, he hit a total of 10 homers with a sub-400 slugging percentage. Producing at least average numbers in such categories turned out to be his ticket to the 40-man roster, given the other solid tools he offered: a reliable glove up the middle with an above-average ability to hit for average and get on base, where he used his plus-speed to steal bases efficiently.
Various coaches suggested adjustments to his swing throughout a long process meant to facilitate offensive pop from his 6-foot, 176-pound frame, but there was also Brian’s simple plea: Make hard contact, and the homers will come. Eventually, one or the other or both clicked. And the on-field results were remarkable.
In his first full minor-league campaign with one team, Brice deposited 13 long balls and 78 RBIs for the Triple-A Nashville Sounds, in addition to posting a career-high .412 slugging percentage that additionally accounted for 24 doubles and two triples.
He clearly was more than capable.
Remember: Growing up in Corona, California, Brice had four older sisters, all of whom were athletes — at one point stronger and faster — being trained under the same roof. Literally, in Brian’s Turning Two (T2) Training Center. For what Brice physically lacked, he learned there how to hold his own because it was the difference between winning and losing to family.
In the Turang Household, that was a timeless test. Competitions included everything from baseball to cornhole to board games in an environment that shaped Brice’s habits.
“I had an indoor training facility for about 15 years that he basically grew up in,” Brian said. “I was running softball teams, baseball teams out of there and he was able to work out with those players.
“He would come in at night and hit with me every day and even if it was him coming in and hitting off the Iron Mike machines, or working in the girls softball practice taking ground balls. He was always around it.”
Brice’s confidence grew as he got older, so much so that he once won $100 for completing a challenge that at first seemed unrealistic. It took place at Marita Hynes Field, the home of Oklahoma softball. Though she was a starter, Brianna was just a freshman then. Brian was there, too. But the instigator in question was Bob Shults, the father of fellow freshman starter Jessica Shults who reset the single-season record for home runs and RBI that season.
According to Brianna, Bob tasked Brice to hit a home run for the aforementioned amount of money. Shockingly, he did.
“He runs in the locker room, grabs my bat, which is way too heavy for him, takes a swing and hits it over the fence,” Brianna said. “And we were like, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ I think he was probably like 9 or 10 at the time.”
Soon after, Brianna said Brice publicly announced his plans on being selected in the MLB draft — the 2014 MLB Draft, that is. He was in eighth grade. Surely, people scoffed at his imagination. Spoiler alert: He didn’t become the first 14-year-old to be drafted. But he received the next best thing that summer, when he was invited to play for USA Baseball’s 15U National Team.
Although USA lost to Cuba in the gold medal game, Brice was dominant throughout the 10-game WBSC Baseball World Cup circuit with comfortable team-highs in batting average (.553), on-base percentage (.617), hits (21), runs (19), RBIs (13) and stolen bases (nine) that earned him the Richard W. “Dick” Case Award, annually given to USA baseball’s top player regardless of age. Only one other 15U player has ever won the hardware since the 15U National Team was established in 2012.
Brice spent three subsequent summers with USA baseball, but he still hadn’t played a game for Corona Santiago High School.
Aside from the fact that high school ball was still uncharted territory, the competition wasn’t going to be much more difficult for a hand-picked player who just put the baseball world on notice in a USA uniform. And Brian made sure Brice headed in as an undaunted freshman.
“I go, ‘What is your goal for high school,’” he said. “Well, he goes, ‘I want to make the varsity team as a freshman.’ And I said, ‘That’s it. You just want to make the varsity team as a freshman?’ He goes, ‘Well, yeah.’ And I go, ‘You don’t want more than that? You don’t want to challenge yourself more than that?’
“He goes, ‘Oh OK, you know what: I want to start as a freshman.’ And I’m like, ‘Really? That’s a little bit better, but that’s it? That’s all you want to do?’ He’s like, ‘Well, what do you want me to do?’ I go, ‘Wouldn’t you want to be the best guy on your team? Don’t you want to strive to be the best?’”
The aftermath of that conversation saw Brice blaze through Santiago’s season with a .475 batting average en route to being named MaxPreps’ National Freshman of the Year and Perfect Game’s top player in the 2018 class. It worked so well that Brian tried the method again ahead of the 2018 MLB Draft that Brice was actually eligible for.
Emphatically, Brian nudged Brice from wanting to be drafted at all to drafted in the first round to drafted with the No. 1 overall pick. By then, he was no longer No. 1 but No. 13 in Perfect Game’s class of 2018 rankings. And he was ultimately selected at No. 21, hammering home the larger point in Brian’s goal-setting system: High aims equal high accomplishments, even if their levels don’t exactly match.
“You’ve got to set audacious goals and then you know what, if you work to attain those goals you’re going to fall somewhere there,” Brian said.
Brice reflected this initiative in his contract negotiations with Brewers general manager David Stearns, who was apparently impressed by Brice’s request to override Excel Sports Management — the agency representing him at the time — and speak directly to Stearns. As unorthodox as it was, Stearns accepted.
“The GM’s like, ‘I’ve never had an 18-year-old actually call me with this much passion and conviction about what they want,’” said Carrie Turang, Brice’s mother.
Soon, his signing bonus above slot value was on the books because he acted on his own behalf — as he once did in accordance with his father’s example.
But Brice’s path has slowly become his own to boast.
“When they drafted him, he knew what he wanted, he had his goal in mind,” Carrie said.