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by Editor Rick Cabral

PRO PROFILE

 MTaylor_Profile

Q & A With Michael Taylor
A Different World View

The River Cats' Michael Taylor has the prototypical body of today's major league fence rattler: he stands an imposing 6'5" weighs 250 pounds, and runs well for a big man. A Stanford player for three years, Taylor is in his third year in Triple-A and second with the River Cats and the Oakland A's organization.

He was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 5th round of the 2007 MLB June Amateur Draft, and has played five full seasons in the minor leagues. In late 2009, after batting .320 wth 28 doubles, 20 home runs, 84 RBI and 21 stolen bases for Philadelphia's Double-A and Triple-A teams, the A's acquired Taylor from Toronto for Brett Wallace. Earlier in the week Taylor had been part of a three-team deal that saw Philadelphia ship Cliff Lee to Seattle and acquire Roy Halladay from Toronto, while Taylor temporarily was a Blue Jay.

When the dust had settled in early 2010, Taylor was ranked in the upper echelon of the A's Top 10 Prospects and projected to make the big club along with teammate Chris Carter (#1 Prospect 2010). Billy Owens, Oakland's director of player personnel, told Mychael Urban of CSNBayArea "...with the type of swing that (Taylor) has, we believe his power will manifest itself at the big-league level. The sky's the limit with this guy." 

Instead, Taylor's 2010 power stats were down across the board (6 HR/78 RBI/.392 SLG). Carter got the September call up to the A's, while Taylor was sent to the Arizona Fall League to work on his swing.

Despite that less-than-stellar offensive year, Taylor's current career batting average is .302. He's a talent waiting to make his mark in the major leagues. Weighing on him is the expectation by the A's that he should hit more home runs, when his career numbers--dating back to his days at Stanford--suggest he's never been a prototypical home run hitter.

In our 25-minute interview, this articulate and amiable outfielder offers an honest evaluation of his talent, the business of baseball and a unique insight that demonstrates an uncommon world view for the average Triple-A ballplayer, but not surprising from someone raised "down on The Farm."


B/S: When you think back to your days at Stanford, focusing on baseball, what stands out?  

MT: "The discipline and the time management it took to do both. The pride we took in that. How Coach Marquess pushed that in us. It's no easy task to do one or the other at any college or academic institution, especially a place like Stanford, to be able to achieve academically while also trying to compete at an extremely high level. To try to go to the College World Series and compete against the very best programs in the nation. It takes up a lot of time and you have to be really diligent in managing that time, making sure you're getting things done, when you have the opportunity to." (Editor's Note: Taylor needs to complete one quarter to graduate from Stanford.) 

B/S: I'm assuming they start you on that from Day One?

"When you come in, it's a 'no-joke' institution. We don't really get a whole lot of help. It's up to you as a student athlete—and it really is one of the few universities where you really are a student athlete—classes they're difficult, tough, it's all competitive-based grading. There's only so many A's, Bs, all that stuff. You're competing against some of the smartest minds in the world to try and not only to pass, you're trying to get good grades.  

B/S: You were a Poly-Sci major?  "(Yes") Why did you choose that major?

"I'm a current events guy. Anything that's in the news, that's current has to do with our social climate today. I feel political science is at the heart of that. So for me, it was always interesting to see how our country acted, not only for things here, but also abroad." 

B/S: This is an especially interesting time…

"...it's always an interesting time in history, for sure.

B/S: How would you compare playing college ball to the Triple-A level. Let's start with pitching. 

"I would say—obviously, it's better—there's really no comparison there. What you have here, Triple-A's an interesting mix. It's a different league. I've heard people say 'Triple-A is kinda like its own monster because you have prospect guys who throw really hard, especially in the bullpen. Most starters are not big league starters, they're long-relief guys, middle-relief guys, guys who have a lot of time (years in the game). Older guys. Mix-and-pitch guys who try to trick ya.

"You look at most starters in the big leagues, they have a certain velocity and pitch repertoire they're going to use in certain areas. Their stuff is so good, that's what they do, they stick to that plan. Here it's more about, we always say, it's more about 'trickin' 'em.' In Triple-A they talk about it all the time: everyone (pitcher) throws every pitch. Most of the starters are guys who have played for a long time, and have some savvy, mix three, four, five pitches at any time…"

B/S: So, that's the big distinction you think compared to college? 

"Yeah, and it's even different than lower level minor league ball. Even at Double-A where guys have, I'd say across the board, better stuff: more velocity, more tilt, more sink. But they're not throwing 3-1 cutters in Double-A, not throwing 3-1 splitters in Double-A and 2-0 change ups as often. Here, that's what you're getting." 

B/S: I thought that was the difference from Triple-A to the major leagues?

"Naw, in the major leagues they throw fastballs. It's like a 62 percent fastball league. People don't really realize that. Look at how Miguel (sic) Bautista (Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays) tore up the baseball last year and 63 percent of the pitches he's seen have been fastballs. They throw fastballs in the big leagues. It really is the hardest pitch to hit, a well located fastball. Guys throw hard, they move their fastballs. That's what they throw. Here, they might get that. If he had 60 some-odd home runs here, you're not getting 63 percent fast balls. It's just not happening (laughs)."

B/S: What did you take from Coach Marquess or his staff that you use today?

"The grind of it, honestly. That's the hardest thing about this game, you play every day. It really does beat you down. Not only physically, but mentally. You fail all the time. One of the things I've taken from him is 'Being a professional.' It's easy to come to the ball park and have a smile on your face, after you've gone four for four, and you've laced a couple of balls. It's difficult when you're one for your last 20. It happens to everyone." 

B/S: But specifically, what did they teach you at Stanford to deal with that, I wonder?

"Come to work as a professional. Be on time. Don't let the results get in the way of your work.' I think that's the big thing in any job. You're not always going to get the results you want, but you still have to come to work and still have to put in the effort. I think that's the biggest thing I took away from Coach Marquess and Stanford." 

B/S: Saw recently where you were talking about when you went to the Arizona League and Don Mattingly worked with you on your swing. Sounded like what you were describing is he was trying to get you to be more fluid. Is that the right word?

"Yes. It's a good word." 

B/S: What were you doing last year that was not fluid?

"I think maybe I had a 'stop' in my swing…"

 

MTaylor_Swinging 

 

B/S: Yeah, where was that at (mechically)?

"It was more just loading and reloading. I think that happens a lot with guys. It's sort of you're here, you get loaded, you stop, you see the ball and you go again. It has to be one fluid motion almost. I still fight with that and battle with that. That's naturally what I want to do. I'm still trying to break that habit. When you've been doing something for a very long time, it's hard to break that habit, especially when you're in a game or don't feel 100 percent right."

B/S: Where did that develop, that stopping thing? Where did it come from? 

"Honestly, the crazy thing about baseball—I have no idea. I've literally done something one way for months and then all of a sudden woken up and seen video and think 'How did I get there?' I think your body makes these small, minute adjustments that just happen. It could be because of a particular day or a particular pitcher, and the next thing you know, that's what you're doing. That's the part about being able to evaluate yourself, get in there and do work. Because things change constantly in this game. It got in there, and I don't know how it got in there…"

B/S: So, you're striving for a more fluid swing. It sounds you were heading in that direction, and they you injured your wrist during the spring (Editor's Note: Taylor missed most of spring training with a wrist injury, and stayed in Arizona for extended spring training. He joined the River Cats in mid-May).

"Yeah, it was a little frustrating. I felt really good in camp. Swung the bat extremely well. Didn't get a whole ton of hits. If you look at the percentage of balls hits I hit hard, it was pretty high. However many at bats I got in spring 30, 35 that's not really enough. That's why you get 500 ABs, because those things are supposed to even out.

"Now, I'm back, searching for that same feel I had. I had a really consistent feel. It's getting there. It's tough when you come in to the season and get interrupted like that. Well, I still have 300 (more) at bats…Now I'm to the point where I'm grinding and trying to put it all together. Hopefully, that happens in the next couple of games." 

B/S: The other part of that I thought was interesting was, Don Mattingly (a manager for the Dodgers,) comes up to you and says "Let me work with you (on your swing); I noticed something." Now, you're not going to say "No," but at the same time it's intriguing to me that that's an opposing club's manager (granted, not in the AL).

Does Oakland say, 'Wait a minute: we don't want you messin' with your swing." Even though you weren't where you wanted to be. You didn't hear anything from Oakland about that?

"No, Oakland pretty much left me alone in the Fall League. It's crazy, we're all one big baseball family. As minor league players, you're not really at a level where that's a big deal. I'm sure if Albert Pujols was playing in a league and the Cubs manager was trying to help him, they (the Cardinals) might be a little upset. But that's at a much different level than talking about minor league ball players trying to reach that dream. I think that everyone's trying to help everyone at this level." 

B/S: At the same time, you were pretty stoked that it was Don Mattingly, right?

"He's an awesome guy. Not only his knowledge, but he was just a good guy to play for. Level headed. I really enjoyed it."

B/S: In an interview with Melissa Lockard (Athletics.Scout.com ), you mentioned that "the organization made it pretty clear what they want to see from me," but really didn't explain. What did Oakland tell you they're hoping to see from you at the River Cats this year?  

"I think it's pretty clear that everyone wants to see me hit home runs… 

B/S: It's that blatant, huh?

"…yeah, it's that blatant.  One of the things that's frustrating for me is I'm not particularly a home run hitter.

B/S: …you weren't even at Stanford, right?

MTaylor_Stanford_Stats

"I've been a guy who's been a good hitter who has hit some home runs. I think a lot of times comparisons are drawn between me and Carter and we're not the same guy; we're not the same hitter. I would say he's definitely more of a traditional power hitter and I'm not.

"I'm trying to work to be that guy, but at the same time it's kind of frustrating because some of the things I do best aren't valued at my size, to be frank with you and honest." 

B/S: What are you thinking of when you say that? 

"For the most part throughout my career, I've done a good job of driving guys in. I've played pretty good defense; throw well. Steal bags. And I've hit for a pretty high average throughout my entire career. 

Listen to Michael Taylor 's response below:

"But at the end of the day, what they (Oakland) want to see from someone my size is home runs! It's frustrating because I still feel like I do things well that help teams win. But at the end of the day this is an entertainment business. And they're trying to put together a product that's entertaining. And home runs sell. And home runs are sexy. That's what makes fans excited about teams. So, I've kind of always been a victim of my size from that standpoint. 

B/S: The expectations…

"Yeah, the expectations have been really high. And if you looked…sometimes I sit back and look at my numbers, and I think 'Wow, I've had a pretty good minor league career.' But at the same time I understand that expectations are high. But you're talking about doing something that only the upper crust of the world can do: try to play in the big leagues. Plenty of great players haven't made it or haven't stuck. And I've played with a lot of them. That's why guys get frustrated. And I'm not going to be one of those guys. 

"I'm not going to be frustrated and bitter because I didn't get lucky or wasn't at the right place at the right time, or didn't have the right month at the right time. If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen, that's great. I'll just keep trying to work. And hopefully I can play well enough that whoever makes those decisions will say 'Okay, he can help us win.'" 

MTaylor_Catches_Fly 

 

B/S: It's ironic, too, that it's the A's organization, since we don't imagine them as a home run hitting club.

"Well, that's what they're looking for. That's where we are right now, that's what they want. That's what they need, I guess, in a way. As far as a product is concerned…" 

B/S: Obviously, you appreciate and understand what kind of a product they're looking for. It's a business, is what you're saying.  What about the approach to hitting that says, "Hit the ball square, drive the ball, and home runs will come when they may." But what you're talking about really is a different thing; where the expectation is "Drive it out of the park."

(Taylor  expresses his view of how the game changed in the mid-to-late '90s, the steroid era, that saw seasonal home runs jump above 50 and eventually reach 70+. The average middle infielder, a part-time guy, he says, with only 250 at bats, was producing 20+ home runs in a season. This changed the way baseball management viewed players, and consequently players adopted personal habits that included performance enhancing drugs to produce the results that met those expectations).

Listen to Michael Taylor 's response below:

"That whole era changed perceptions of how many home runs should be hit. Hank Aaron, the greatest home run hitter of all time, hit 44 one year {Editor's note: in 1971 Aaron hit 47, his single-season high}. They tell me, 'We need you to hit 40 home runs.' I say, 'Okay (he pauses, while his eyes grow wide), so you need me to be Hank Aaron. Honestly, a clean guy, you need me to be Hank Aaron…(laughs) to be in the big leagues.' That's awfully daunting to tell someone.

"The drugs changed it, the climate changed it, the ballparks changed it... Like anything, any time there's that much money to be had you're going to do whatever it takes to have a piece of that pie. It doesn't matter what it is."

B/S: This being your second year in Triple-A, have you developed a book on the pitchers you're seeing for the second time around?

"Not really. It's funny; it's kinda been different dudes. I was also in Triple-A for a half season in '09, too (with Lehigh Valley/International League). I have a pretty good memory of guys I've faced. But, a lot of those guys aren't here. That's the thing about Triple-A, there's a lot of movement.  

"I felt I played against the same guys from short season Single-A to Double-A. The best arms were back again, at every level. Now, it's not so much. The guys who were stars here, as far as last year is concerned, are in the big leagues. Or, some of the veterans are here. I don't think I've faced anyone I faced last year. Granted, I've only played 15 or 16 games."

B/S: So it's like first time around on that level. I read where last year you over-thought things a little bit. That sound right?

"Yeah, that's very accurate." 

B/S: It was "keep it simple this year." Coupled with the more fluid swing, just go out there and swing the bat, and have a good time, is what I heard you saying. So, with regard to the mental aspect, have you ever worked with anyone on the professional level, maybe a psychiatrist or someone who says, "When you go up to bat, use this trigger"? Like in the movie, "For The Love of the Game," where the Kevin Costner character says…

"...'clear the mechanism.' No, not really. I've never worked with anyone professionally. You hear people give you advice, 'Just have fun and relax.' But it can be a lot harder to do when you're in the middle of, trying to, like I said, chasing your dream. Every once in a while I catch myself, because I'm a thinker, I always have been.

"I've said more than once, "If I was an idiot, I'd be a millionaire." 

B/S: Yeah, what do you mean by that?

"Just the ability to turn your mind off and play sometimes is an unbelievable skill…" 

B/S: Gotcha.

"An unabating confidence that's unquestioned is a big thing for a game where you fail all the time. Your best athletes—people don't understand, 'Oh, that guy's cocky. He never thinks anything's wrong with him—you have to have that mentality. You will never be great in anything, but especially in sports, if you constantly question 'Where am I? Who am I? What's going on?' I've struggled with it a lot…" 

B/S: It's just your nature…

"I consider myself very aware. And I'm always trying to analyze and make something better. If I don't feel like it's as good as it can be. A lot of times in this game, you've got to take what you've got and sometimes trick yourself into thinking 'It doesn't get any better than this.' So, that's where I'm at." 

B/S: So, if you don't have somebody professionally, when you're going to the plate, you're digging in the box—mentally—what is literally going through your mind when you step in?

"Depends on where I am mentally. If I'm in a good place, going over to the plate (thinking) 'You're in trouble (Mr. Pitcher)' If I'm in a bad place, 'where's my foot going to be, or my load's going to be, what's he going to throw me, what's the situation'…" 

B/S: So, you're trying to clear that stuff when you go up…

"Yeah, sometimes you'll see guys step out. Call time real quick, late. You're like 'Get out of your own head.' And that happens a lot." 

B/S: I saw this film last year about some of the River Cats, and it included you and several players. And I didn't know it, but you're a diabetic. Talk to me about that. When was it diagnosed?

"October 28, 1996…I was 10 years old. Yeah…it was interesting. It was an adjustment period, and I was really lucky to have a couple of parents who were there for me to support me and help me learn along the way. 

B/S: What was the telltale sign?

"Dry mouth and I was urinating quite frequently. I had to use the bathroom 15 times a day.  I went to the doctor, he ran some tests and that's what it was."

B/S: So, you have to inject insulin?

"Yeah, I take shots, have juice on the bench, my kit and stuff. Full-blown Type I diabetic and just trying to survive." 

B/S: Now, how do you deal with that when you come on a new club? Do you have to tell your roommates, 'Hey guys, I've got to shoot up insulin, so don't be shocked.' You tell them this way?  

"I don't even tell anyone. Usually, the organization obviously knows. As soon as (teammates) see it, the questions start flying, and you just fill them in then. At first, some guys were squeamish of needles. For the most part, guys ask questions, and it kinda spreads. I carry along a little lunchbox (laughs)… so, that pretty much, that's a question right there. 

B/S: Standing out in the outfield, does it ever occur to you, 'I'm so damn lucky to be here right now—even though I haven't yet reached my dream yet—look where I'm at"?

"Honestly, it has. Sometimes you don't have room to have that thought, because your head's to the grindstone, and you don't want to step back and get comfortable. If you think about, and I know people in the outside don't think about it. But if you're in Triple-A, and you think there's 750 big league ballplayers, and 750 Triple-A guys (Taylor does the math and realizes there are fewer players in Triple-A, but stays with the ballpark estimate): you're talking about 1500 guys at your level or higher—just here, not counting the Japanese Leagues—I mean that's the upper .0001 percent of the world of what you're doing. It's not where you want to be. But at the end of the day, you have to feel very blessed and very lucky that, one, you're able to perform enough to get here. Two, to be healthy enough to get here. Three, get up here and play up here.

"All the people I've met. All that the game's done for me. All the places I've been because of the game. You have to sometimes say 'Wow.' Think back to high school and how you thought of minor league baseball or college. And when you got into short season, 'man, it's a lot different.' To make it through all those levels, and have success at all those levels, it's pretty incredible.  

"It's not where you want to be, and the casual fan doesn't appreciate it. But I think the baseball fan can sit back and go, 'Wow, that's something that's tough to do.'  

"And job's not done yet, but something that's tough to do."

 

MTaylor_On-Deck 

 

B/S: Final question, I saw in a recent interview you said at some point after baseball you might like to work in the Pentagon. Why the Pentagon? 

"I just feel like there's so much crazy…" 

B/S: …because they're on the inside? 

"Yeah, they're on the inside of the intelligence world. On the inside of what's going on. I just feel that would be so interesting to know what's happening at all times. I'm not a conspiracy theorist per sé  , but I do know that everything that is said to us isn't what's happening. So, just to be able to know some of those things would be cool. 

B/S: That's interesting, because most ballplayers don't aspire to work at the Pentagon. 

"At the end of the day, at the end of my career, I don't want to be a coach, Not to say  I wouldn't want to get into the game, but that's not the first thing I want to do. I want to stimulate another part of my brain for little awhile." 

Michael Taylor's Minor League Career Stats

 

Uploaded 06/06/11

© Rick Cabral 2011

 

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