Powerful Taylor Looks Like Steal Of 2007 Draft
READING, Pa.—When Michael Taylor dreamed as a kid, he dreamed big. When he saw himself as a baseball player, he envisioned Willie Mays.
A student of the game since his grade school days growing up in Apopka, Fla., Taylor learned of Mays—the player, the man, the "Say Hey Kid" persona—and took aim.
"I wanted to be dynamic, like he was," said the 23-year-old Taylor, who was tearing up the Eastern League for the Phillies. "Steal bases, hit homers, play defense, drive in runs. He seemed to have a great personality, a great ambassadorship for the game. He just looked like he was always enjoying himself.
"At a young age I thought, 'Hey, that's what I want to do.' I want to play this game at a high level, but also I want people to see me and think, 'That guy has a lot of fun playing the game, performing, putting on a show.' "
Power And Speed
Since emerging from a rough pro debut with short-season Williamsport in 2007, it's been showtime for Taylor.
The 2007 fifth-round pick out of Stanford dominated the low Class A South Atlantic League last season, earning all-star honors after batting .361/.441/.554 over 67 games. He barely slowed down after a midseason promotion to high Class A Clearwater, where he batted .329/.380/.560 with nine homers in 65 games.
The 6-foot-6, 260-pound outfielder has raised his game to a new level since joining Reading, where he regularly draws comparisons to slugger Ryan Howard, who terrorized the EL five seasons ago with a club-record 37 homers in just 102 games.
Taylor went into the early days of June batting .351/.412/.615, leading the league in slugging and leading Phillies minor leaguers in every major offensive category.
"You see some of that power in him that you saw when Howard was going through our system," said Steve Noworyta, the Phillies director of minor league operations. "He just has that kind of strength. He's such a big, strong guy, just as Howard was, and has that (kind of) power."
Taylor won't hit home runs in bunches the way the two-time National League home run champ does; he's a natural line-drive hitter, and doesn't get the kind of distance or loft Howard does.
But his game is more advanced and more well-rounded than Howard's was when he came to Reading in 2004, and he's created his own legend with the ferocity of some of the line drives he has sprayed around FirstEnergy Stadium.
Taylor is a far better athlete, runs better, has a stronger arm and is technically more advanced as a hitter.
"Michael has that (same) type of juice," said Reading batting coach Frank Cacciatore. "The swings are a little different, but that strength is there."
Other than size and natural strength, the comparisons between Taylor and Howard end there.
"I don't really worry so much about homers as I do about hits," said Taylor, a more gregarious, outgoing sort than the laid-back, private Howard. "Hits make me feel like I'm doing what I need to be doing. I'm trying to square the ball up and get as many hits as possible."
Taylor has studied batting techniques just as thoroughly as he studied economics at Stanford, where he remains just 19 units short of a degree.
Growing up in baseball-rich central Florida he was exposed to an array of professional players, coaches and scouts, and absorbed each nugget he saw or heard.
It shows now in his approach at the plate, where he became more disciplined and selective.
"He may be 23 years old, but his mental age, and the way he approaches his work is like a veteran," said Cacciatore, who has watched Taylor since his high school days. "He's always looking around, seeing how things are done. He's come up here and scanned what Double-A baseball's about. He's very aware of what's happening."
"Anybody who likes to talk baseball, I like to talk to," said Taylor, who has enjoyed winter batting cage sessions with former Phillies batting coach Billy DeMars, Nationals batting coach Rick Eckstein and Nationals manager Manny Acta, among others. "It's a fascinating thing to do. Everyone's got their own unique approach; there's no one way to do it.
"When I get a chance to talk to coaches, rovers, anyone who played, I like to see what they think about certain situations, what they look for in counts as opposed to what I see."
He keeps notes from past sessions and studies them during down times.
"Sometimes when I feel out of whack, I'll take a look at them," Taylor said. "I have a book of notes, photos, video—all things to go back and remind me of some of the principles and the precepts that I have. When you play every day it's easy for you to be out of whack. It's the most difficult easiest game in the world."
The game got more difficult for Taylor when—at age 10, and just three days before Halloween—he was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes.
"They tell you you can't have candy any more," recalls Taylor. "I was kind of devastated."
He hasn't let it stand his way. Like other obstacles he has faced, he studied the situation, came up with a game plan, and dealt with it.
"It was a challenge, but life is full of challenges," said Taylor, who will occasionally sit out a pregame drill if feeling fatigued. "That's all it was. Diabetes is something that you can live with. There are some inconveniences, sure, but there's always worse. Everyone has their own set of difficulties. I'm doing the best I can with what God has given me."
Mike Drago is a spoirts writer for the Reading Eagle in Reading, Pa.