02/25/11 9:40 PM ET
Taylor eager to put 'miserable' year behind him
Touted A's prospect hoping fusion of fun, ability leads to Majors
By Jane Lee / MLB.com
While embarking on his own search for those very answers, Taylor failed to find all of them -- just the one that mattered.
"I would say the biggest reason why it was a difficult year is because I didn't enjoy myself," he conceded.
Rather, Taylor took to the daily grind that is the regular season without so much as reminding himself that fun is supposed to be synonymous with baseball. He never pouted, but "every person in the world could have told you I wanted to do better."
"I'm kind of a light-hearted guy, pretty jovial, and I think last year was really the first time ever in my career where it got to the point where I was thinking more about what I needed to do to get to the big leagues instead of just trying to enjoy the game," Taylor said. "It ended up making me kinda miserable."
2010 Spring Training - Oakland Athletics
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Things didn't necessarily start out that way, though. Following big league camp with the A's, Taylor migrated to Triple-A Sacramento and tallied three consecutive two-hit games to begin the season.
"I felt great," he said. "There I was thinking, 'I'm going to be here for a month, not even.'"
That month surpassed, and Taylor was still a River Cat -- a struggling one, at that. Following his 6-for-12 start, he dropped into an 8-for-47 (.170) slump over his next 13 games and was batting just .232 overall when he was placed on the disabled list May 14 with a strained left calf.
This wasn't the Taylor that A's fans had been promised just months before, when Oakland brought him in via a Minor League swap with Toronto in exchange for highly touted prospect Brett Wallace. That Taylor, the towering 6-foot-5 strong and athletic right fielder, boasted plenty of raw power. He paced Philadelphia's farm system in batting average in both 2008 (.346) and '09 (.320) and ranked 29th on Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects List prior to the start of last season.
Looking to prove his worth in a different city, Taylor set out to climb toward those numbers again when he was reinstated from the DL on May 29. But even then, he admittedly "never really felt great," despite spending countless extra hours in the video room and with hitting coach Brian McArn.
"There was so much pressure for him at the start of the season," said A's director of player personnel Keith Lieppman. "It's easy to get caught up in all that. There were certain times when I knew he was frustrated. But the fact that he kept working, kept searching for answers and was open to so many ideas from different people, it shows the type of player he is. All of those obstacles, he became better because of it."
The numbers showed, in part because of a conscious change in his bat path. He hit .286 over his final 94 games, including a torrid July that saw him compile a .324 average with two homers and 24 RBIs. August proved more difficult, as evidenced by a .238 clip, but Taylor managed to go 16-for-39 (.410) over his final 11 regular-season games to finish the year at .272 with six home runs and 78 RBIs.
The latter marks represented career lows, as did his .392 slugging percentage and .348 on-base percentage. Taylor was left off Oakland's list of September callups, ultimately separated from the promoted Chris Carter, with whom he had come to be mentioned in the same breath.
"We're both big black guys who hit homers in the Minor Leagues," Taylor said, smiling. "It makes sense people talk about us like we're one person. It seems like I've been grouped with someone my whole career, at every level. It's difficult because we're different people, we're different players. People expected us to make our debuts together, but things work out the way they're supposed to."
It took until the Arizona Fall League for Taylor to reach that conclusion. For it was there, only after he put aside his up-and-down season in Sacramento, where he "had a lot of fun."
"I realized how much I can enjoy my days, and then how good I can be because of that," Taylor said. "I wanted to make it to the big leagues last year, and I still do. But if I don't, I'm definitely not going to be miserable. That's for sure. That's never going to happen again. That experience was clutch for me.
"In hindsight, to be honest with you, I was actually pretty proud of the year I had because of how difficult it was. My previous two seasons were relatively easy."
Taylor's path to The Show is still anything but that. Back at big league camp with the A's, he's staring down an outfield crunch. Coco Crisp, David DeJesus, Josh Willingham, Ryan Sweeney and Conor Jackson, barring any health issues, are all expected to grace the Opening Day roster. Not even Carter appears primed for a spot, leaving Taylor's status pretty self-explanatory.
"I know I'll be starting the year at Triple-A," he said. "The A's are trying to win the division, and they improved this winter the way they thought they could do that. Hopefully, Chris and I put up the season and the type of numbers in Triple-A that make it difficult for them to make those same moves next year.
"I'm going to be happy this year. I don't care where I'm at. Who knows? I might not be playing baseball next year. If you think about it like that, you come out and enjoy every day. No regrets, and just have fun playing."
In the meantime, Taylor is expected to see plenty of at-bats this spring while rotating around the outfield. He'll continue to draw stares from those patiently watching for home runs, and he'll likely remind them that it's probably not worth the wait.
"The crazy thing about it is I've never thought of myself that way, as this big, home run power hitter," Taylor said. "One year, I hit 15 homers, which I don't necessarily consider a ton. I've always been a guy who could hit for average and, because I was doing well, could hit a few homers. That's the way I've always been."