Oakland A's Prospect Q&A: Michael Taylor, OF

The Oakland A's have had a busy off-season, making numerous moves to improve a team that went a disappointing 75-87 in 2009. While the signing of Ben Sheets might be their most high-profile off-season move, the team's acquisition of Michael Taylor may have the most long-term impact. We caught-up with Taylor, who we ranked as the A's top prospect, just days before he left for spring training.

For a player who has yet to make his major league debut, Michael Taylor has a lot of national name recognition. The outfielder's name was frequently mentioned in connection with high-profile trades during the lead-up to the July 2009 trade deadline, as Taylor's original organization, the Philadelphia Phillies, attempted to bolster its pitching staff. The Phillies targeted Toronto Blue Jays' ace Roy Halladay in particular, and Taylor was one of the Philadelphia prospects who was rumored to be heading to Toronto in exchange for Halladay. Philadelphia was unable to complete the deal during the 2009 season, but they were able to consummate the transaction in December. As expected, Taylor was sent to Toronto as part of the Halladay trade. What wasn't expected was that the Blue Jays would immediately send Taylor to Oakland in exchange for the A's top prospect at the time, corner infielder Brett Wallace.

Although Taylor was born and raised on the East Coast and has spent his professional career in the Phillies' chain, he comes to the A's with a Bay Area connection, as he was selected by the Phillies in the fifth round of the 2007 draft out of Stanford University. Taylor got off to a slow start to his pro career in 2007 when he posted only a 665 OPS for short-season A Willamsport. However, he had a breakthrough season in 2008 when Taylor hit .346 with 19 homers, 88 RBIs and a 968 OPS for the Phillies' Low-A and High-A squads. The Florida native proved that season was no fluke, hitting .320 with 20 homers, 84 RBIs and a 944 OPS in 116 games between Double-A and Triple-A in 2009. The A's are hopeful that those numbers will translate into Taylor becoming a middle-of-the-order threat in the big leagues. A's Director of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi recently compared Taylor to Matt Holliday in an interview with OaklandClubhouse.com.

We spoke to Taylor on Friday just days before he was set to leave a cold and rainy Orlando, Florida, and head west to Phoenix for his first A's big league spring training camp. Taylor is expected to compete for a spot on the A's Opening Day roster this spring.

OaklandClubhouse: What was your reaction when you heard that you were traded? Were you surprised?

Michael Taylor: I wasn't surprised that I was traded, but I hadn't heard much in advance that the A's would be the team. I had a little inclination that there was a possibility that I might be involved in something. I didn't know where or when or how, but it didn't shock me.

OC: You are an East Coast guy, but you did spend time in the Bay Area when you were at Stanford. Are you familiar with the A's organization from those days at Stanford or the Bay Area at least?

MT: Yeah, I am definitely familiar with the Bay Area. I spent the three most important developmental life years out there. Eighteen to 21, your own sort of personal awakening happens during those years. I went to a lot of A's games and I spent a lot of time in San Francisco and Oakland, so I am familiar with both cities. I really enjoy the Bay Area, the environment, the culture, the food, the diversity – all of those different things are really important to me, so I loved my time out there. When I found out that there was the possibility that I would be traded to Oakland, I was excited, not only for the opportunity to join the organization because I know that it is a young team and there are opportunities there, but also because I really do enjoy the area.

OC: The possibility of you being a part of a trade for a big name like Roy Halladay was seemingly bandied about for much of last season. Was it hard to play through trade rumors like that when you were in a situation you were comfortable with?

MT: It was one of those things where I tried not to focus on things that I couldn't control. In the game of baseball with it being such a mental game, it is really important to be focused on the things that you can control and really basing your success on that. It was really wasn't a factor and it fell into that whole scope of things where you can't worry about what other people are doing and what is going on in other organizations or what is going on in your own organization or what is going on beyond what you are doing on a day-in and day-out basis. If you focus on those things, you are going to struggle over a 162 game season. The trade rumors and all of that stuff, it was just another part of that.

I just kind of went to the ballpark. I might have peeked at the rumors here and there after games, but for the most part from seven until whenever the game ended, I was more focused on the tasks I had at hand, which were my at-bats and the plays I had to make and just trying to do what I could do to help our team win. I think if you focus on those things, everything else just sort of takes care of itself.

OC: I read that coming out of college, you employed what some people have dubbed the "Stanford swing," a more line-drive swing, and that you made some adjustments to your swing to generate more loft. Was that something that you were told you needed to change, or was that an adjustment you determined on your own that you had to make?

MT: Here is the thing that is really crazy about the game of baseball. I think that it is definitely meant to be played over a long haul just because of the variability that any one player can have. He can play one way and then be a completely different player two or three months later. That is just the way the game works and that is why you have 500, 600, 700 at-bats because the average of that is what you are as a player. You are always changing and trying to improve in this game.

I definitely went out and worked with people throughout the [Phillies] organization and then put together my own plan on what it was going to take to be successful. I'm still a line-drive hitter. I really don't think I'm that much different [then when he was in college]. When I was a junior, I hit 12 homeruns in 200 some-odd at-bats, so I am probably on somewhat of that same pace over the course of the minor league season. It just looks better over 500 at-bats. My swings are sort of the same. The balls I hit out of the ballpark are the same.

One of the things I think that I have improved upon in pro ball is having a better plan and being more consistent. Playing day-in and day-out sort of helps that for me. I actually enjoy playing everyday rather than playing three days on the weekend and having four days off. For me, it is easier to get into a rhythm and it is easier for me to make adjustments. One of the things I am good at is being able to make adjustments on the fly and stay consistent and stay disciplined. I think all of those things are helpful at the pro ball level and less important at the college and high school levels.

A lot of it was also just a matter of getting better. I think everyone has their own arc on their ability and their skill level. I think one of the unique things about baseball is that projecting players is not a perfect science. They kind of have this standard, but there are guys who are as good as they are ever going to be when they are 19 and they are projected to get better and never do, and there are other players who need more time to grow into their bodies and learn to use the gifts that God gave them. Their skills come out a little later down the road.

As I have gotten older, I have definitely grown into my body. I have always been a big guy, but I didn't necessarily have the strength factor that my body would suggest. People always said, "you have a big league body now." Well, that might have been true, but I wasn't big league strong. [laughs] I was trying to control big limbs with 16, 17, 18 year-old strength. As I have gotten less awkward and have gotten more in control of myself, it has also helped my results and my ability to drill and teach my body the movements that it needs to make. It is a lot of different factors [that have lead to his improvement]. It isn't just the "Stanford swing." Some freedom has helped, but I learned a lot of lessons there that have helped me in pro ball. It has all sort of been one big pie that has started to come together for me. I really can't say it is one thing. It has been a lot of things.

OC: You made the leap from Double-A to Triple-A during last season. Was that the toughest jump, level-wise, or was it when you jumped from A-ball to Double-A?

MT: Honestly, I thought the biggest jump was from Low-A to High-A. I thought the difference in the arms – just ability-wise – from Low-A to High-A was huge. Triple-A, the stuff wasn't any better. What you had were guys who understood how to pitch, so the adjustment was more mental, trying to understand what that pitcher was trying to do to you. You had some help with that because you had scouting reports from guys who had played at that level all year long, so that was helpful to me. The High-A to Double-A jump, the pitching was probably more consistently good, but you didn't see anything that you didn't see in High-A.

The Low-A to High-A jump was night and day. You really started to see the power arms, the first-rounders. There weren't really that many first-round arms in Low-A. When you get to High-A, all of the first-round arms, the guys who are supposed to be impact pitchers at the big league level, they start there. To me, that was the biggest jump. It was a rude awakening because you were going up against guys who had great stuff, so to me, that was the biggest jump that took the longest for me to make.

OC: You spent time in the Mexican League this winter. What was that experience like?

MT: It was different, I'll definitely say that. It was very competitive from the standpoint that it means a lot to the organizations, to the cities, to the towns. You get that here, but it is even more so there. It really is what a lot of people live for there. Opening Night there were 15,000 people there, there were fireworks, the whole deal. It was probably as intense a baseball experience as I probably ever have had.

Baseball-wise, it was a little bit different. They pitch differently. I guess you could liken it to Triple-A, but they throw a lot of breaking balls, a lot of cutters. Very few guys throw hard. The only guys who throw hard are usually the foreign guys, whether that was the American guys or the few Dominican players we had there. Those are the guys who are the traditional American-style pitchers, throwing 91-93. The Mexican guys are more 86-87 cutter guys with big, slow eephuses. Not to say that you aren't going to see that over here, but it isn't as common. It's just another set of adjustments that you have to make. You learn to make a new adjustment, which is always good in baseball.

OC: The A's have made a few deals involving former Phillies prospects recently. Do you know Gio Gonzalez, Adrian Cardenas or Josh Outman at all? If so, will knowing them make you more comfortable at the start of big league camp?

MT: I don't know Outman at all. Gio, I played against him in high school. I know AC [Cardenas] pretty well. I played with him in Clearwater for a little bit. I've actually already talked to him and I saw him a few weeks ago. I know a few guys in the organization. I played with Chris Carter and he was down in Mexico, so I saw him there and I saw him in Hawaii [at the Hawaiian Winter Baseball league in 2008]. I also know Jemile Weeks. I'll kind of lean on them a little bit early I think, just until I get my feet wet and find out how they do things in Oakland and how the organization is run.

I'm not really worried about it. Baseball is baseball everywhere. I have spoken to a lot of people since the trade and they have all been extremely nice. When I got traded, I got phone calls from a lot of people really high up in the organization who had good things to say and were very comforting. I'm going to go out there a little early to meet everyone first and get to know all of the guys and start that rapport. I'm not really worried about [that aspect]. I'm pretty excited to get started and go out west where it is a little warmer. [laughs]

OC: Are you going to camp with the expectation of competing for an Opening Day job, or are you more just looking to make a good first impression on the A's coaching staff?

MT: I am most definitely trying to compete for an Opening Day job. That is just how I am going in there. How realistic that is, I don't know, but I have been told that I'll have every opportunity to impress. That is what I am looking for, but it isn't the end-all, be-all either. I understand that there are a lot of things that go into that. It is a long year. What I am most excited about is having the opportunity. Whether I have a chance to break camp with the big league club or whether I go back to Triple-A, there are still opportunities for me. I'm just going to try to do well. Try to play well, try to get better and eventually break in because I am one of the better outfielders that they have and can play at that level. I'm looking forward to that opportunity and when it comes to spring training, I am definitely going to do everything that I can to win a job – working out here [in Orlando] and working out there and trying to learn everything that I can. If it doesn't happen, I'll go to Triple-A and continue to refine the things that I need to refine to be major league ready.

OC: Is there an outfield position that you feel most comfortable in – right, left, center?

MT: You'd be hard pressed to find a guy who doesn't say that he is most comfortable in center field because you just see everything. That being said, while I run well, I'm not sure I run well enough to cover all of the ground you need to cover in center field. Both of the corner spots are great for me. I really don't think there is that much of a difference. It really depends on the park and where you play. It's easier to play left field in Boston than it is to play right field, so from that standpoint, I'd probably be more comfortable in left. But it doesn't really matter to me. In left field, mistakes don't cost you as much. In right, if you let the ball get behind you and it goes into the corner, the guy winds up on third. That doesn't really happen in left field. It's usually all about making the routine play and throwing to the right base and you are pretty much a solid left fielder. From that standpoint, left field is a little bit easier. But I like both. I like throwing from right field better just because I like to throw to third. Other than that, it doesn't really matter. I'll play anywhere. I'll play shortstop if they want me to. [laughs]

OC: Did you ever play any other sports when you were in high school? Were people always trying to pressure you to play football or basketball because of your height?

MT: I played basketball my freshman year and did pretty well. I was a solid player, but I was a 6'5'' center [laughs], so that pretty much puts a limit on how far you are going to be going in the world of basketball. In Florida, sports are a serious thing. It's year-round in every sport these days, so I had to make a choice and I chose baseball because I felt like it was what I was best at. It was a heck of a challenge for me, so that was what I did. My dad never let me play football. People were trying to get me to play football quite a bit, but, to be honest, it's 50 degrees right now [in Orlando] and I would not want to be hit in the cold at all. I'd only want to hit when it is warm, so I am really happy about that decision. [laughs]

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