Samad Taylor is better than what he showed last season with the Lansing Lugnuts. In 530 plate appearances with Toronto’s Midwest League affiliate, the 20-year-old second baseman slashed an anemic .228/.319/.387. Despite those hide-your-eyes numbers, he is, in the words of Blue Jays farm director Gil Kim, “such an exciting player.”
Taylor’s tools are beyond rebuke. Drafted by the Indians out of a Corona, California high school in 2016, he more than held his own in rookie ball as an 18-year-old. He continued to impress in 2017 — this time in the New York-Penn League — and the Blue Jays took notice. Bullish on his potential, Toronto acquired Taylor, along with southpaw Thomas Pannone, at that year’s trade deadline in exchange for Joe Smith.
When I talked to him last August, the youngster admitted to having lost his offensive identity. Rather than staying within himself, he had been trying to turn on balls he should have been taking up the middle and to the opposite field. And not only was he chasing pitches out of the zone, he was failing to square up fastballs in the zone. Worse yet, he “kept doing the same stuff that wasn’t working.”
A wakeup call finally came. Lugnuts hitting coach Matt Young told Taylor that he could get him back on the right path; he simply needed to trust what he’s been told. The most-meaningful message was, “Don’t stride.”
“When I was striding, I was trying to go get the ball too much,” explained Taylor. “I wasn’t letting the ball travel, and as a result I was hitting a lot of ground balls to shortstop and to the third baseman. I was hitting balls off the end of the bat to the pitcher, or hitting little flare fly balls. I wasn’t letting the ball get to the right hitting zone to where I could drive the ball into a gap.”
Gap-to-gap is where he needs to live. The Golden State native isn’t without pop — he left the yard nine times last year — but despite having what Kim called “lightning-fast hands that translates to some of the best bat speed in the organization,” he’s built for speed, not power.
“I don’t weigh 265 pounds,” stated Taylor, who swiped 44 bags last year. “I weigh 165. I’m not going to give you 40 bombs a year. I have to use my wheels, and I have to play good defense.”
It would be an exaggeration to say that Taylor’s glove work is as fine as frog’s hair, but he can definitely pick it. Just as importantly, he recognizes the need to be an asset on the run-prevention side of the ball. Not a candidate to ever threaten Jeff Kent’s home-runs-by-a-second-baseman record, he has to consistently gobble up grounders.
“Defense is crucial,” Taylor told me. “I’m having a down year on the offensive side, but I can’t let that affect my defense. If I’m not hitting, I’m at least going to play outstanding defense. I have to do one or the other. I would love to do both, but both isn’t always there.”
His defense got better as the season progressed. Lugnuts radio broadcaster Jesse Goldberg-Strassler told me that Taylor committed five errors in April, four in May, and then just three more the rest of the season. Not only that, “his athleticism allowed him to make marvelous plays to his left or to his right.” According to Kim, Cesar Martin deserves some of the kudos. Lansing’s manager “put in a ton of work helping Taylor improve his defensive footwork.”
Not surprisingly, Taylor watches other infielders. Early on, his eyes were especially focused on Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. After being traded to Toronto, Devon Travis became a point of interest.
But good role models are only so helpful. Ultimately, every player he needs to be himself — a fact not lost on the up-and-coming infielder. He brought up that very subject when I asked a question related to his stat-line.
“I try hard to not pay attention to stats at all,” Taylor told me. “Once you start paying attention to stats, you start trying to be somebody you’re not. Matt Young tells me all the time, ‘You is always good enough.’ If I go out to the yard and give my team everything that I know can do, then we’re fine.”
Time will tell just how fine things turn out for Taylor. As Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel wrote in their hot-off-the-presses Blue Jays Top Prospect list, “(The) tools are here for a low-end everyday second baseman if things continue progressing.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.