As late as December, Michael Taylor's path to the major leagues looked to be wide-open. At that point during the off-season, the Oakland A's looked to be clearing house in their outfield. They were expected to say good-bye to their four starting outfielders/DHs from the 2011 season – Coco Crisp, Josh Willingham, David DeJesus and Hideki Matsui – and were expected to go with a youth movement in the outfield.
Things began to change dramatically for the A's and for Taylor in early December when Oakland traded Trevor Cahill and Craig Breslow to the Arizona Diamondbacks for a package of players that included outfielder Collin Cowgill. The A's then continued to add outfielders when they dealt closer Andrew Bailey to the Boston Red Sox for, among others, outfielder Josh Reddick. The outfield collection continued into January with the re-signing of veteran Coco Crisp and acquisitions of veterans Seth Smith and Jonny Gomes. The A's culminated that activity with the surprising free agent signings of veteran DH Manny Ramirez and Cuban superstar Yoenis Cespedes.
By the time spring training rolled around, Taylor's path to landing on the A's Opening Day roster was all but closed. He received 20 at-bats in big league camp, but managed only four hits and was sent back to minor league camp before the A's departed for Tokyo, Japan, making it official that Taylor would be starting a third season with the A's Triple-A squad.
Taylor didn't allow the disappointment of being sent down from big league camp get him down, however. He had a productive final two weeks in minor league camp and is feeling locked in at the start of the 2012 minor league season.
"I'm excited to get out there and get at-bats and just continue to go along with the process. I've said this before, but I feel good, I feel ready," Taylor said.
Obviously the goal for every minor league player is to reach the big leagues, but Taylor is looking forward to suiting up for the River Cats once again. During Taylor's first two seasons with Sacramento, the River Cats made the post-season both years and Taylor has enjoyed being part of a winning situation.
"I've done this enough to where I feel comfortable being in this situation here [in Sacramento]. Obviously, this team is going to be really good again. It should be a lot of fun," Taylor said.
Since joining the A's organization via a three-way trade involving his original organization – the Philadelphia Phillies – and the Toronto Blue Jays, Taylor and the A's hitting coaches have been hard at work tinkering with the mechanics of his sometimes complicated swing. Last season, Taylor and then-Sacramento hitting coach Todd Steverson spent a significant amount of time working on getting Taylor in position to be able to drive the ball when pitchers give him the opportunity to do so. The results were positive, as Taylor's homerun total jumped from six in 127 games in 2010 to 16 in only 93 games in 2011.
Feeling comfortable with the mechanics of his swing, Taylor is now focused on perfecting his timing at the plate.
"That's kind of our focus going into this right now, to have the rhythm of the ‘dance' between the pitcher and the hitter. Having that be consistent is the main goal," Taylor said.
The Florida native is also starting off his season healthy, an advantage he didn't enjoy in 2011 when he injured his wrist during spring training and was forced to miss the first six weeks of the regular season.
"[The wrist] has been good. I'm still wearing the same brace I've been wearing for the past year or so," Taylor said. "I'm still involved with the same daily exercise routine that I do with the wrist. I did a lot of strengthening this off-season, so it feels good."
The River Cats' Opening Day roster is crowded with talented outfielders, as Taylor is joined by 2009 A's first-round pick Grant Green, A's 2011 co-minor league player of the year Jermaine Mitchell and veterans Jeff Fiorentino and Brandon Moss. Taylor figures to be in the line-up most days, but his position may change frequently from left to right and even center on occasion. The Stanford alum is ready for whatever role River Cats' manager Darren Bush throws at him.
"Wherever they want to play me, I'll play. Left, right. If they want to put me at shortstop or have me pitch or catch, I'm there," Taylor said, laughing. "I'm looking forward to getting going and for the season to start."