For a guy who was moved to the mound because he couldn’t hit, Brandon Taylor sure is crushing the ball.
Two years after the Cubs moved him to the mound to take advantage of his 92-94 mph fastball, Taylor ranked in the top five of the Golden League in most offensive categories. He was hitting .422/.472/.798 with 10 home runs, 11 doubles and only eight strikeouts in 109 at-bats. With numbers like that, and a rediscovered love of the game it’s safe to say that Taylor’s days as a pitcher are long gone.
“I literally hated baseball for the past two and a half years,” Taylor said. “I had never pitched before in my life. Now getting back in the batter’s box, there’s nothing better. I’m doing what I love.”
Taylor, 25, is now hoping for a second chance at affiliated ball, after seeing his first opportunity slip away almost before he knew it. A 17th-round pick of the Cubs in 2005, Taylor hit .262/.314/.455 in his debut with short-season Boise. But all that time, the allure of getting a guy with a 94 mph fastball onto the pitcher’s mound was in the background. When Taylor started off the 2006 season by hitting .213 in his first 53 games with low Class A Peoria, the Cubs made the move, with Taylor’s approval.
Five outings later, Taylor had blown out his arm and was headed to Tommy John surgery. He rehabbed and got back on the mound late last year, but was released after 26 ineffective innings.
When the Cubs released him, Taylor knew he would never pitch again. What he didn’t know was whether he was done with baseball. St. George’s manager Cory Snyder had seen Taylor play at Brigham Young, so when Taylor’s agent called, Snyder was interested.
Taylor came out and hit over .400 during the Golden League’s winter league program, showing Snyder enough to confirm that he had his 2008 third baseman. But Taylor then called Snyder and told him he was calling it quits. With no calls from affiliated clubs, he wondered if it was worth giving the game another try.
Snyder scrambled and found a new third baseman to replace Snyder, only to find out his shortstop was also retiring. Just as Snyder was making calls to find a new shortstop, Taylor called back saying he wanted to give baseball one more try. Snyder was game, but with a spot open only at short, it would involve Taylor going back to the position he last played as a college sophomore.
The decision has worked out perfectly for both Taylor and Snyder. Taylor has been St. George’s best hitter, and by playing shortstop, he’s proven his defensive versatility, which will be an asset in his attempts to get back to affiliated ball.
Interestingly, the biggest question about Taylor coming into the season was his bat. The 25-year-old has a plus arm, runs well (6.7 seconds over 60 yards) and, according to Snyder, he has soft hands and is above-average defensively at third base, and rapidly improving to average at shortstop.
Even after a nearly two-year layoff, Taylor quickly got his timing back. It didn’t hurt that he’d already survived a two-year layoff before when he took a two-year Mormon mission trip to work in Argentina. “Thank goodness for muscle memory,” he said.
This year he’s shown quick hands, excellent hand-eye coordination and a short swing, which explains pitchers’ inability to strike him out. But Taylor’s knack for putting the bat on the ball is both his strength and his weakness. As Snyder explains, Taylor could be hitting even better than his .423 average if he would learn to work counts to his advantage.
“He has an incredible two-strike approach, but he’s so aggressive early in the count,” Snyder said. “Last night there were two balls he hit that were maybe four inches off the ground. I told him, ‘You’re hitting .430 and maybe 60 percent of the pitchers you’ve hit are pitcher’s pitches. Do you realize how good you could be if you let pitchers make more mistakes?’ “
Snyder figured that he wouldn’t have Taylor around for too long. Because of his previous hitting struggles, scouts may want to see him prove he can make adjustments, but with few toolsy shortstops who can hit playing indy ball, Snyder said it’s likely only a matter of time before someone snaps him up. In fact, just after this story was reported, the Dodgers did just that, purchasing Taylor’s contract and sending him to low Class A Great Lakes, where he hit two home runs in his first six games.
• The Golden League has already sold the contracts of 14 players to affiliated ball this year, after sending 17 players to affiliated ball in all of 2007. There’s a good chance the league will top its all-time record of 22 player sales, set in 2006.
• One of the intriguing players signed out of the Golden League is lefthander Derrick Loop, who was leading the league with a 1.53 ERA when the Red Sox signed him. Loop’s ERA is all the more impressive when you consider that the hitter-heavy Golden League has no team with an ERA under 5.30. Loop sat between 84-87 mph last season, but he went on a long-tossing program during the offseason that bumped his velocity up to 87-91 mph to go with a tight slider/cutter that gives him an effective out pitch.