Thursday, July 31, 2008

More to the TBA than just the majors....

If you type “Michael Taylor” into Google’s search engine the first site that pops up is for Michael Taylor’s Designs a furniture and accessories company. While my girlfriend would probably page around that site, in fact she may already have, that wasn’t the Michael Taylor I was looking for. Nor was the second link - an IMDB site for Michael Taylor (XII) the co-executive producer for Battlestar Galactica (the new one, not the old one). The Michael Taylor I was looking for wasn’t even on the first page, nor the second.

It wasn’t until the third page of results that I had a true hit and it was courtesy of That is the beauty of having minor league baseball in your own town. Michael Taylor, 5th round draft pick for the Philadelphia Phillies, formerly of Stanford University is the newest member of the Wasteland Hall of Fame. As a matter of fact I think he might be the first inductee since I haven’t gotten around to writing about the others yet.

Unless you’re a member of his family, a Phillies scout or a Clearwater Thresher season ticket holder you probably don’t know who Taylor is, and to be honest before Saturday night neither did I. Taylor stands a lofty 6’ 6” and weighs in at 250 lbs. As my friend, Work Mike pointed out he looked like a “man among boys”. Work Mike is also convinced that he helped Taylor achieve his 3-4, 2 RBI night because he “pounded & locked it in” the fist bump before the game. Needless to say Work Mike is an interesting guy.

Taylor, who is working on finishing his degree from Stanford, drove in those two runs in a Thresher win over the Ft Myers Miracle. I hear you saying “What’s a Thresher? How is a Miracle a team?” Your confusion is not surprising we’re talking about the Florida State League, a class A minor league division that features mostly young players in their second or third league of pro ball. This is where the stars play before they are stars. Ryan Howard played 130 games here and hit 23 home runs. Chase Utley hit a pedestrian .257 in his one season in Clearwater. Cole Hamels was here long enough to break his hand in a bar fight down the road from the stadium.

Occasionally a rehabbing major leagurer will roll into town after coming off the DL. Jimmy Rollins was one of the latest to don the sand and red colored jersey of the Threshers. Most of the time the field is covered with fresh faced college kids or recently signed Latino free agents. They’re still learning how to be professional ballplayers, most of them having at best a half of season of rookie ball under their belt. The defense can be spotty, the pitching wild and the hitting suspect.

Despite the proximity to Clearwater‘s pristine white sandy beaches the players aren‘t looking to hang around here too long. They’re trying to beat the odds and crawl their way up the majors. The majority of the players are around 23 or 24 years old, much older than that and it’s probably time to start thinking about a new career. Unless they tear up the league early in the season most of these players are a season or two away from a September call up to the majors.

In the meantime, they spend most of the time learning. Even the players that have spent a few years in major colleges are still adjusting to wooden bats and A+ sliders. Power pitchers are learning that professional hitters can hit 95mph fastballs especially ones down the middle, so maybe its time to learn a second or third pitch.

Taylor is one of those hitters trying to adjust, despite his large frame he moves with an easy athletic grace whether it’s loping out to his position in left or gliding around the bases for a stand up double. His size is his most notable asset, during an inning change he towered the Thresher 3rd baseman Gary Cates who is listed at 5’7 on the Thresher website, but looked like a veritable Mini-Me standing next to left fielder.

The Phillies hope Taylor develops into a hitter with Ryan Howard type power. He still has some work to do, his swing seems a little long at this point, but he is starting to put it together. In May he was named the Topps Minor League Player of the Month for the South Atlantic League after he hit a scorching .363 with 7 home runs while playing for Lakewood. Since his promotion to Clearwater he’s only hit .252 overall, but it appears he’s starting to come around. In the 10 games between July 18th and July 26th he hit .351 with 4 doubles, a home run and 7 RBI’s.

The joy of minor league baseball is going to a game and “discovering” a player like Michael Taylor. By the time you see the players in Tropicana they’ve already been talked about, blogged about, chewed up and spit out by someone. Even when a player like Evan Longoria has a rookie season like he’s having now, it’s almost expected. Anything less would have been a disappointment.

So if you live in a town with a minor league ball team g out and see them. Just because they aren’t making millions yet doesn’t mean they’re not worth seeing. Besides it’s always fun to say, “Hey I knew he was going to be a star back when I saw him in Durham”. Or in Reading or Midland or Ottawa or any of hundreds of other towns across the country.

And remember - when you see Michael Taylor crushing pitches out of Citizen’s Bank Park in Philly, you first heard about him here.

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