In an organization that saw a number of high-profile prospects advance quickly and reach the major leagues in 2013, shortstop Chris Taylor -- Seattle's 5th round pick in the 2012 draft -- put together a season that couldn't be ignored in winning the organization's Minor League Player of the Year Award. He hit a combined .314/.409/.455 across two levels, leading the organization in hits (165), runs (108), walks (84) and triples (11) among other categories.
Taylor is now in the Arizona Fall League for the M's, playing well for the Peoria Javelinas. He took some time during his off day to talk with SeattleClubhouse's Rick Randall about his success to this point in the minor leagues and the challenges that lie ahead for him.
SeattleClubhouse: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me today, Chris.
Chris Taylor: You bet, any time.
SC: This season was a great one for you as you paced the organization in a number of offensive categories. What has been the key to your offensive success as a pro?
CT: I think this season has just been a matter of really taking it one game at a time. Just trying to really be consistent and doing whatever I can do to help my team win. I think if you take that approach then it turns out well for you and for your team in the end, so that's really what I focused on.
SC: When you were drafted you carried a reputation as a glove first-type of shortstop. Your defense is certainly worthy of that categorization, but your bat has taken another step forward from your college days, even as the competition has gotten tougher and the equipment moved in the pitchers' favor. Talk about that transition from amateur to pro and why you think it is that you have been able to become a more complete player as a professional.
CT: I think a lot of the success I've had offensively have been a credit to what I learned in school at UVA. Coach (Kevin) McMullen was an unbelievable hitting coach and I think that I learned a lot from him and he really helped me mold my approach to where it is today...both at the plate and in the field, really. I try to take what I learned there and I think it helped the transition a lot.
SC: This year you started the season in High Desert. I've talked with several prospects that have gone through there over the past few seasons about the conditions. What do you think is the single biggest factor that makes playing good statistical defense there tough?
CT: You know, I think that the conditions there can get in your head a little bit, but I tried not to think about them. Sometimes the wind is blowing out and you can get out of your game a little bit. Some guys see that and they try and hit the ball in the air. But for me, I just tried to stick with my same approach, and I'm best when I hit the ball hard on the ground or in the gaps. If I happen to hit one well in the air that's great, but that's not what I'm trying for.
As far as defensively, I think that I learned a lot by playing on a very fast infield. You have to learn to make the aggressive mistakes. Sometimes on faster fields you'll find yourself playing back on your heels, and a lot of times in doing that, the ball is going to eat you up. So I think that playing there during the first half of the season really helped my defense by reminding me that I need to be more on the aggressive side than on the passive side. If you make mistakes by being aggressive then so be it, but I try to play with no regrets and let me instincts take over.
SC: And talk about the difference between league environments between those two stops -- the California and Southern Leagues.
CT: I think going from the offensive environment of the California League to the Southern League, which is pretty much dominated by pitchers, and it has the reputation of being a much tougher league to hit in -- the ball doesn't travel real well, a lot of really good pitching -- I think the biggest difference was really in terms of struggles. In High Desert I didn't really ever struggle because over the course of a series or a season you'd get more balls to fall in or chop through. But in Jackson, you don't get many of those cheap hits. So you can go a whole series with getting just one or two hits, and that can get frustrating. So you need to treat each series like it is a new season almost. You know, forget about your previous at bats if you are struggling, or if you are doing well then you try and use that confidence and try and roll with it.
But that was the biggest thing, just that it is a lot easier to get in slumps and you can't let that affect your play if you are struggling.
SC: A few players I've spoken with over the past several seasons have talked about how moving up the chain actually helps them in their plate discipline. As pitchers and umpires become more consistent it is easier to stay within your plan at the plate. You saw a decrease in strikeout percentage as you moved up -- did those things factor in to that for you?
CT: Yeah, I think they played a small part. I'd also like to think that I got a little better as the season went along in hitting with two strikes. But I'd definitely say that the jump from High-A to Double-A that the strike zone definitely shrunk a little bit, and that probably helped my two-strike hitting as well.
SC: Back at Virginia you were an everyday, leadoff-hitting shortstop. You've hit first and second and played short and some second over your first two seasons and are playing some second in the AFL. Where do you feel you belong in the lineup and on the diamond?
CT: I feel comfortable wherever I'm playing as long as I'm in the lineup. I feel really comfortable in the leadoff spot because I did hit there so much in college, but I also feel comfortable in the two spot. Wherever the coach wants to put me I feel like I'm comfortable enough that I can perform my best. I alternated between second and short a lot in Double-A, so I feel I'm good at both places.
SC: Speed is a big part of your game. The old baseball cliché is that 'speed never slumps', but what do you do to keep that part of your game in shape throughout the long grind of a minor league season.
CT: I just try to stay flexible, do my stretches every day. You've got to try and avoid injuries -- although I'm not really sure how you do that. If you're worried about that then you aren't playing your game, but I think being flexible is a big part of staying healthy.
SC: What do you see as the biggest challenges ahead for you as a player as you work your way towards the major leagues?
CT: Trying to stay consistent and keep playing hard and having fun every day throughout the season as it gets to be a grind can be a challenge if you let it. So staying within yourself and trying to do that is something I make sure to do every day.
SC: How do you work on reaching those levels in your personal approach? Are you the goal-setting type with statistical thresholds you want to see yourself meet?
CT: I try not to set statistical goals, but I do have individual goals as far as things like wanting to get bigger and stronger, working on my speed and agility and then working on little things within my game, offensively and defensively.
SC: Lastly Chris, where would you rate the polish and the overall level of competition so far in the Arizona Fall League?
CT: I think the competition level in both leagues is pretty high. Guys throw a little harder in the Fall League, but the ball also carries better. The strike zone is pretty tight, too, so that helps from the offensive side. But overall I'd say that the competition level is pretty comparable.
SC: The last couple Players of the Year in the M's system got themselves invites to big league camp the following year. Is that something you think about at all and do you put any timetable goals out there for yourself as far as continuing to climb up the organizational ladder?
CT: Trying just to focus on playing well here in Arizona for right now. If I get invited to big league camp that would be great, but I try not to think about things like that that are out of my control. I just try to take care of the things that are within my control and play to the best of my ability and things will hopefully work out.
SC: Well you've got a lot of people out there who are pulling for you and hoping that things do work out for you quickly. Thanks once again for your time, Chris, and continued success to you in 2014 and beyond.
CT: Thanks a lot, I appreciate it.
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