Athletics’ outfielder Michael Taylor knows that 2014 Spring Training is special for him.
It’s not because he showed up to camp 15 pounds lighter and “more relaxed than ever.” It’s not because he spent the offseason working with third baseman Josh Donaldson on refining his swing, which now brings a more pronounced leg kick to his approach at the plate. It’s not because through the first 11 Cactus League games he leads the team in hits, doubles and home runs.
It’s because the now 28-year old prospect is out of minor league options, and if he doesn’t break camp on Oakland’s 25-man roster he’ll be designated for assignment and any organization could jump in an claim him.
A change of scenery would be nothing new for the Stanford-product. Taylor was taken by the Philadelphia Phillies in the fifth round of the 2007 MLB Draft. After earning 2009 Eastern League Rookie of the Year honors with AA Reading, Taylor was dealt to Toronto in the trade that brought Roy Halladay to the Phillies. The Blue Jays immediately flipped him to Oakland in a deal for Brett Wallace, and Taylor has spent the last four seasons successfully toiling away at AAA Sacramento.
Taylor brings maturity and a sound approach to the batter’s box, boasting above-average walk rates and manageable (but certainly not great) strike out rates, while hitting .292 over his minor league career. His bat carries some decent power as well, hitting 46 home runs in his last 325 games for the River Cats. At the end of the day he’s a prototypical corner outfielder with decent range, a strong arm, average speed and a polished bat that probably translates to a .270 hitter with 20+ homer pop over a full season of professional at bats.
The problem has never been a lack of ability, but of opportunity. Despite spending the past four seasons in the high-minors, Taylor has accrued just 74 plate appearances over three separate major league call ups. They’ve been sudden and inconsistent, and without the chance to string together regular at bats, Taylor (admittedly) puts too much pressure on himself to perform every time he’s given a big league opportunity.
If Taylor needs any inspiration, he doesn’t have to look any further than his friend manning Oakland’s hot corner. A 27-year old Donaldson enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2013 (.301 AVG/24 HR/93 RBI), but not after spending five years in the Athletics’ minor league system, three of which came at Sacramento. Like Taylor, Donaldson fluctuated between AAA and Oakland for a few seasons before an injury to Brandon Inge to put Donaldson’s bat into the everyday lineup. That extended window allowed the slugger to prove himself, and the A’s were rewarded with a performance worthy of a four-place finish in the 2013 AL MVP voting.
It looked like Taylor would get that window as well. At 2013’s close, he stood a fighting chance of earning a starting gig this spring. But a flurry of offseason moves brought Coco Crisp back for three years, Josh Reddick back for one, Craig Gentry over from Texas in a deal for Michael Choice, and Billy Burns (whos having a phenomenal spring in his own right) over from the Nationals the Jerry Blevins trade.
Suddenly the A’s outfield is a bit crowded, even on Oakland Coliseum’s spacious turf.
Billy Beane and company will be faced with a difficult decision when active rosters are reduced to 25 players come March 30th. Should Taylor break camp with the club, he’ll likely be the second outfielder off the bench and continue to stumble in his development as a major league hitter. However, if he’s designated for assignment there’s a number of clubs who could be interested in taking a flyer on the prospect. Should he find his way into regular playing time, there’s no reason Taylor couldn’t be a late bloomer and have a successful professional career.