Being selected by a bunch of old baseball scouts and young statistical theologians as one of the top prospects in the game does not guarantee future success. It does, however, generally assure players the opportunity to succeed. In spring training, the guys with the most tools are given the most and longest looks, and in the thick of summer, when a hole opens up on the major league roster, the Triple-A players with the greatest “wow factor” get the first nod, assuming their stats are up as well. If a prospect fails, it is not because his talents were ignored, but that when he was given a chance, his performance never lived up to the hype. But sometimes there are exceptions, sometimes there is Michael Taylor and the Oakland Athletics.
A 6’5 behemoth outfielder, Taylor had everything going four offseasons ago. Then 24, he had been named by Baseball America as the 29th best prospect in the game of baseball and had just been traded by the Phillies to he Blue Jays as the secondary prospect in the Roy Halladay deal. He was an impressive athlete who could perform across the board offensively and provide value on both sides of the ball. Upon arriving in Toronto, Taylor was promptly flipped to Oakland for the equally impressive first base prospect Brett Wallace.
The Athletics immediately assigned their newly acquired outfielder to Triple-A Sacramento…….where he has remained ever since. Over the last four seasons, Taylor has amassed 81 plate appearances at the major league level and just under 2000 plate appearances at Triple-A, a puzzling figure for a former elite prospect with a premium statistical track record.
Taylor had struggled in his first season in Oakland, posting a .272/.348/.392 line, a steep drop from his .320/.395/.549 from the year prior. That temporarily killed his prospect status and accounts for him spending all of that year in the minors and most of the next, but it doesn’t provide reason for why the predominantly healthy outfielder has played in just 15 major league games over the last two seasons.
2010 was simply a fluke and Taylor’s stats have improved greatly since. In 2011, the outfielder improved his OPS to .816 and his numbers the last two years have been stalwart. In 2012, he boasted an .405 OBP, 12 home runs and a .846 OPS, with 18 home runs, .360 OBP, and an .833 OPS coming in 2013. Sacramento may be in the hitter friendly Pacific-Coast League, but according to a report by MILB.com’s Ashley Marshall it is actually a decidedly pitcher’s park, the second worst hitting environment in the league. Taking park factors out of it, Taylor is one of only three PCL outfielders to post a wRC+ of 120 or above each of the last two seasons, the other two hitters lack anything close to Taylor’s prospect pedigree.
And yet Oakland has refused to give him a fair shake. They’ve only brought him up in patches; nine games in 2013, six in 2012, and 11 in 2011, and while he has struggled every time, it’s difficult to assess a player’s major league ability when he is receiving less than 30 plate appearances per year. Instead, the Athletics elected to give 375 plate appearances to outfielder Chris Young and his .280 On Base Percentage in 2013, 111 plate appearances to career minor league outfielder Colin Cowgill in 2012, and a combined 805 plate appearances to the collective sub-.700 OPS of David Dejesus and Josh Willingham in 2011.
One way or another, though, Michael Taylor’s time in Sacramento is likely over. After years of waiting, Taylor, now 28, will finally be given a legitimate opportunity to make the team out of spring training, and is arguably the favorite to grab the fifth outfield spot. The A’s, however could also choose the recently signed Sam Fuld for that job, in which case Taylor would not immediately report to Triple-A as he has in seasons past.
This year, he is out of options and as such will have to pass through waivers before he can be sent to the minor leagues. Someone, some team, somewhere is going to take a flyer on a player with his numbers and skill set. The Astros could use a fourth outfielder, Cubs’ GM Theo Epstein is always looking for undervalued players, and the Brewers are very short on depth behind a starting trio. There’s no guarantee he will succeed, but this will at least be the year that Michael Taylor gets a shot.