Oakland A's Spring Q&A: Michael Taylor

Going into the 2010 season, expectations were sky-high surrounding Michael Taylor. Expected to challenge for a big league role, Taylor instead had an up-and-down season with Triple-A Sacramento. Back with the A's for a second year, Taylor is buoyed by an off-season adjustment to his swing and ready to translate the lessons he learned from 2010 into the 2011 season. We spoke with Taylor on Tuesday.

OaklandClubhouse: How have the first couple days of camp gone?

Michael Taylor: They've gone well. I feel really good. I worked really hard this off-season to get where I needed to be, so my body feels good. I'm just getting back into the swing of being on the field all day. It's a different sort of conditioning. It's a little difficult to get used to, but being out there and getting back out there with the guys and seeing some live pitching for the first time, it's felt good. I feel ready.

OC: Is it different coming into camp this year knowing everybody and being more familiar with the organization than last year?

MT: I think so. It's always nice to come in and be able to see familiar faces, to be able to share stories. It's not that you walk on egg shells before, but you have really no idea about personalities. There are hundreds of guys running around. Coming in last year, I knew a couple; one or two well and maybe three or four just passing by. Now I have a good feel for some of the dudes and you have jokes and things that help make the days pass by a little bit better and allow the atmosphere to relax and feel a little more natural. For me, I have definitely enjoyed this time leaps and bounds above my start to camp last year.

OC: You were added to the 40-man roster this off-season. That's obviously a big milestone in anyone's career. What did it mean to you when you found out you were added to the roster?

MT: You kind of have these little checkpoints, like you said, as you go through your career. I think every guy would love to skip over it and get right to being an everyday player in the big leagues, but the fact of the matter is that most guys kind of have to grind it out. You look at these checkpoints when you talk about how much time you spend in the minors and all the blood, sweat and tears you spend at this job. Definitely being added to the roster is one of them.

There are a lot of great players who don't get added. There are a lot of players who do great things in this game who get overlooked or are overshadowed because you can't watch everyone play everywhere all of the time. The media and the baseball machine will write a lot about certain dudes, but there are a lot of dudes who are great who aren't added. You kind of have to step back and be humbled by it because it is an honor and it is a reflection that the organization feels you have a place in their future in one respect or another in their minds right now. You should try to honor that with your hard work and try to give the best that you've got.

OC: Another honor was being a part of the Arizona Fall League this past October. What was that like for you and do you feel like it has helped you going into this year?

MT: Yeah, I loved it. It was probably as much fun as I have had playing baseball in a really long time. You have a group of really talented guys. It is extremely competitive. The arms you see there everyday, day-in and day-out, are really special arms. I loved playing for Don Mattingly [the Phoenix Desert Dogs' manager] and our hitting coach Jamie Dismuke. They helped me out a lot. They helped me with a revamping of my approach, of my swing. I'm still working on it now, but it feels great. Anytime you get tips from a guy like Don Mattingly, you pay attention. I was able to do that and have been trying to put that into play. I'll be trying to hone that up this spring training so I can use that as much as possible during the year.

OC: What kind of stuff did Mattingly talk to you about?

MT: He was really big on having one fluid swing. I think one of the things that happened to me last year was that I kind of got a stop in my swing. A bit of a pause. Things work there way in.

One of the things that is difficult about coming to a new place is that no one here has seen me. They haven't seen me play. They haven't seen me when I have been at my best. They haven't seen me when I have been at my worst. They are hesitant to make suggestions and make changes. You come over and they want you to be able to do your own thing. They have their suggestions, but it is kind of what their vision is of what you should be as a player instead of the player that you are. Sometimes it can be kind of difficult when you have several voices telling you what they think you need. Had I been with the same hitting coaches I had worked with the past three or four years, they may have been able to say ‘hey, remember when you did this? Let's try it. This is when you are at your best.'

I think Mattingly had a pretty keen eye for seeing that stop. It was something that wasn't completely foreign, but I think just the way that he worded it and the way that he approached it, it clicked with me. I realized it and saw that. We went to working on that for the entire Fall League, and I'm still working on it, but it's definitely a lot better. I'm interested to see once I have gotten caught-up to live pitching and have gotten used to the speed of it how it is going to work out for me this spring. I'm excited about that not only for the spring, but obviously into the season as well.

OC: You touched on last year a little bit. It was obviously filled with some ups and some downs. What did you take out of the entire experience of 2010?

MT: The couple of main points that I took away were 1) never take anything for granted because this game is extremely difficult and results are not necessarily a reflection of the work you put in. When things are going well, revel in it. When people say, ‘this guy got on a run and was locked in all year,' I know what that feels like to be locked in all year. Now I know what it feels like to fight and claw tooth and nail all year for what some people call a disappointment. For me, it is probably the season that I am most proud of because it was so difficult and because it wasn't one of those years when you are rolling. It's easy to come to the ballpark everyday when you feel great. It's hard when you are searching for something.

From my standpoint, enjoy the moments when they come and 2) enjoy the game. I think a lot of the time you can get caught-up in trying to make it to the big leagues and trying to do this or that just perfect and you don't enjoy that three hour segment when you are getting to play. I think this year, more than any year, I'm still going to bust my butt, but when 7 o'clock rolls around or 6:35 or whenever the game starts, I'm going to have as much fun as I possibly can.

OC: What was it like to be on a team like the River Cats last year that started off slowly but then made a huge turnaround midway through the year to make the playoffs?

MT: Really what's kind of crazy about the game of baseball – and a lot of people who cover the game and watch the game know this but it is easily forgotten – is that you play 144 in the minors and 162 in the big leagues. You hate to say it, but we knew we were good. As players on the team, we didn't really ever panic as a unit. Triple-A is sort of a weird situation because everyone is there, but doesn't want to be there [laughs]. Everyone feels so close to their ultimate goal. You've got guys coming up and down who want to stick, guys in my situation who want to break in and guys who want another chance.

At the same time, we looked around the room and we knew we had a lot of talent. We were all from different places. There weren't that many returners [from the River Cats' 2009 squad]. We were all trying to figure out a new level and we were all trying to figure out each other. Once that happened, we caught Fresno in a month and we were back by 14 games. We put together one heck of a streak. That continued into the playoffs. We gave ourselves an opportunity to go even further and it didn't quite work out, but I think we played extremely well.

I think the team this year will be in the same boat. As I look at Sacramento and what we are probably going to have there, I think this team has an opportunity to be maybe even better because we have guys who are coming back who know each other and are comfortable and free of all of that. Like I said, no matter where I am at [Sacramento or Oakland], I'm excited about it because I think both teams are going to have good years.

OC: In the playoffs, you had a chance to play at Safeco Field and you hit a homerun. What was it like to play in a big league stadium like that, even if it wasn't for a big league game?

MT: It was cool. I think it was a little more empty than it is for Mariners games. [laughs] But anytime you can get on the field and see the surface they play on and the magnitude of the stadium, it's pretty cool. Obviously we didn't get to experience the noise, but you can almost feel the sounds reverberating because it was enclosed and you can almost imagine how loud it might be and how cool it might be. I remember the first time I stepped in the box thinking ‘man, I could be facing Felix Hernandez here one day and how crazy would that be?' It was a special moment. Once the game starts, you get back to the task at hand of playing.

It was definitely cool homering there. One of the funny things was that after I homered that night, Tommy Everidge, who is as hilarious a person as you'll ever meet in baseball or in life, tried to finebox me for not homering in Albuquerque and hitting a homer opposite field at Safeco at night. He was having fun with me and it was that time of the year when everyone is doing something to keep us going. It was a special moment and it was nice for me.

OC: What was your off-season like after the AFL ended?

MT: I spent some time in California. I went to San Diego because my best friend lives there. Went to Los Angeles, to San Francisco. Stopped at Stanford to see some friends there and saw a couple of Stanford games and then I headed back home for Christmas and my birthday. I went to the Orange Bowl and got to see Stanford beat up on Virginia Tech, which was great for me. Saw my family and then headed back to California and went to Sacramento to see some friends there. Then I blinked and here I am.

OC: You mentioned Stanford. As a Pac-10 guy, is it hard to imagine the conference without Cal baseball in it?

MT: We were talking about it [Tuesday] because we have a couple of Cal guys on the team with Tyson [Ross] and Conor [Jackson]. It sounds like [the school administration] bungled the situation a bit by not letting their alumni know they were going to cut the program ahead of time. I think there is enough tradition and enough history there, when you talk about the magnitude of big leaguers they have [as alumni] I think they definitely could have reached out and fundraised to keep the program going, at least awhile longer. I know it is tough in California right now because the state is bankrupt and it is a public school and they are looking to cut money where they can. It is crazy to think that a year from now there won't be a Stanford-Cal baseball rivalry because it was definitely our biggest emotional rivalry.

Pac-10 baseball is great. It's wholly underrated. If you look at some of the players who come out of the Pac-10 and what they have done, I think there is something of an East Coast bias there [underrating the conference]. But to think that Stanford won't have a big series with Cal, with the ribbing and the animosity that comes with that, is kind of interesting. But we'll see what happens. Hopefully they'll find a way to keep it around.

OC: What are your goals starting with spring training and then going into the regular season?

MT: I want to put myself in a position where the big league club believes at some point that I am ready. I think every player doesn't know [what the big leagues will be like] until he gets there and I would just like the opportunity just to see. That being said, you have to do the things that the organization wants to see and I think they made it pretty clear what they want to see from me, so I will do my best to do that. Hopefully, if that happens, I will be rewarded or given the opportunity. At the end of the day, if I get better everyday and find a way to get to the big leagues, it will be a pretty successful 2011.

OC: One last question. There are obviously a lot of new faces in the outfield with you in Josh Willingham, David DeJesus and Hideki Matsui. Have you had a chance to interact with them much yet and get their veteran perspective on things?

MT: Yeah. The great thing about it is that they are all really nice guys. Genuinely really nice guys. I met DeJesus first. Outgoing guy. Very funny. Not shy at all. He was one of the first guys I saw in camp. He got here and didn't know a whole lot of dudes and we got to talking. Matsui got here a bit later. He has a crazy world that goes around him. There are so many Japanese reporters and camera men surrounding the guy all of the time. I don't know how he does it. He's been nice. He kind of says hello and goes about his business. Willingham is akin to DeJesus in that he is an outgoing, jovial guy who goes about his business and has fun. He doesn't big league, as we like to say in the business. He's talking to all of the guys who don't have [service] time, the non-roster guys. Messing around and playing cards, that sort of thing. It's been a good start. The more I get an opportunity to play with them, the more I will get to pick their brains. But right now we are just trying to get our bodies ready for the long season.

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