"There's no other reason to go to Omaha," quipped the 6-foot-6, 260-pound hulk of a right-fielder, who slugged 12 home runs in his senior season for the Cardinal. "Seriously though, I don't look at my time at Stanford as being incomplete because I didn't make it there. I remember the people I met, the relationships I made, the class lectures I had from a former political prisoner from Iran. That's what stands out."
In his three seasons at Stanford (2005 to 2007), the Cardinal twice sniffed but failed to reach Rosenblatt Stadium. With holdovers from the 2003 finalists, Stanford was eliminated by Baylor in the 2004 Regionals. The team was then bounced by eventual national champ Oregon State in the Super Regionals the following year.
In '07, a squad light on pitching needed a late-season surge just to escape the Pac-10 cellar. "We were so young," said Nolan Gallagher, a good friend of Taylor's who's now a Seattle Mariners pitching prospect recovering from Tommy John surgery. "It's extremely rare to have a team without a major veteran presence get all the way to the College World Series." It remains skipper Mark Marquess' second-worst season in 34 years as Cardinal head coach.
Taylor now has larger priorities. He shoulders high expectations from A's fans, many of whom show up at Raley Field to watch him play for the Sacramento River Cats of Pacific Coast League. He's a thinking man's player, a slugger who left Stanford about a quarter's worth of units shy of completing his degree in political science. If you want a healthy debate, ask him about health care reform.
And when it comes to grading his performance in Triple-A, Taylor is brutally honest. A talented right-handed hitter who combined for a .333 average and 39 home runs in each of his first two full professional seasons is struggling: Much to the chagrin of the River Cats, he owned just a .253 average and three homers coming into Monday's action.
"I know I'm struggling," said Taylor, taken in the fifth round by Philadelphia in 2007 and traded to Oakland last December from Toronto. "For whatever reason, it hasn't clicked. But I'm trying. I know baseball is a game where sooner or later, a slump is going to find you. The key is to figure out what's wrong and just fix it. I'm burning the midnight oil."
He entered professional ranks in the midst of a marked shift. The Majors' marquee young stars are pitchers, with their emergence coinciding with a marked drop in hitting and run production.
A key indicator of the hitters' plight lies in a decidedly anonymous list of the game's top outfielders (Ryan Braun…didn't he coach Cal basketball?). Gone are the days of Griffey, Bonds, even Puckett and Buhner populating All-Star rosters. The A's are pressing to develop hitting talent, with Taylor wearing white shoes because of the organization's recent failures.
Oakland – one of the lowest scoring teams in the American League – is approaching its fourth straight losing season. The club hasn't produced a worthy power-hitting outfielder since drafting Nick Swisher eight years ago. The best outfielders who've played in the Oakland organization in recent years now reside elsewhere.
Andre Ethier made it as high as Triple-A before going to the Dodgers in exchange for Milton Bradley. The A's stole Carlos Gonzalez from Arizona in the Dan Haren trade, but Gonzalez lasted only a year before being prematurely swapped for Matt Holiday. Prospect Brett Wallace came over from St. Louis when Oakland dumped Holiday at last year's trade deadline. Wallace, more of a corner infielder, was sent to Toronto for Taylor.
Taylor went pro upon his fifth-round selection by Philadelphia three years ago, but his name entered national headlines during the most recent offseason. The Roy Halladay trade briefly sent him to Toronto before the A's came calling.
Taylor went to the same Florida high school that produced Kansas City A's Zach Greinke.
"Baseball's a priority in Florida, that's for sure," Taylor said. "I pride myself in being someone who can appreciate the finer nuances of the game. I appreciate what a discriminating eye Barry Bonds had. The guy never swung at a bad pitch and almost never saw a good one."
Former teammates remain certain of Taylor's impending turnaround.
"His preparation and hard work are unreal," Gallagher said. "There aren't a lot of guys who put the kind of time commitment in that Mike does. The ones who do move up."
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