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Prospect Retrospective: Chris Taylor, OF-INF, Los Angeles Dodgers

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Chris Taylor as a prospect was quite different than Chris Taylor the major leaguer, but there were hints of something more.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Arizona Diamondbacks Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

One of the key reasons for the success of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2017 was Chris Taylor. He hit .288/.354/.496 with 34 doubles, 21 homers, and 17 steals, 126 wRC+, 4.7 fWAR, while playing both the outfield and the middle infield positions. A reader recently asked me for a Prospect Retrospective for Taylor, given that he never produced a season like this in the minors. That said, there were hints in his profile of something better to come. Let’s take a look.

Christopher Armand Taylor played college baseball at the University of Virginia. His sophomore (.305/.385/.404) and junior (.284/.383/.445) seasons in ‘11 and ‘12 were quite solid and scouts had positive things to say about his defense and athleticism, although there were a few questions about how his hitting would look at higher levels.

It was rumored that some clubs were looking at him as early as the second round for the ‘12 draft, but he ended up going in the fifth round to the Seattle Mariners. Even so the Mariners had to go over slot to sign him. Taylor hit very well in his pro debut at .328/.430/.474 in the Northwest League, leading to this comment in the 2013 Baseball Prospect Book:

Chris Taylor was drafted in the fifth round last June from the University of Virginia. The Mariners had to almost double slot money ($264,500) to sign him ($500,000), but this might not be a bad investment at all, if he keeps playing the way he did in his pro debut. Taylor showed more pop than expected in the Northwest League, while demonstrating the same speed and defensive skills he established for the Cavaliers. We need higher level data, of course, but he’s someone to watch closely in ’13. Grade C but interesting.

Taylor opened 2013 with High Desert in the California League, hitting .335/.426/.524 in 269 at-bats. However, that’s High Desert, where pitchers go to die, and he needed to confirm this at higher levels. Moved up to Double-A Jackson for the second half, he still hit well at .293/.391/.383, showing less power but maintaining his batting average and OBP abilities.

I moved him up to a Grade B- in the 2014 book with this comment:

The Mariners drafted Taylor in the fifth round in 2012 from the University of Virginia. Scouts liked his glove and his baserunning acumen, but doubts about his bat kept him from the earlier rounds. He played well defensively last year, as expected, and swiped 38 bases while being caught just five times. Most importantly he hit much better than anticipated, showing good plate discipline and some gap power. The SLG at High Desert was inflated by context, but he continued to hold his own after moving up to Jackson. At the least, Taylor will be a fine utility player and it is possible he could end up as a regular somewhere if he keeps hitting like this. Grade B-.

Taylor split 2014 between Triple-A Tacoma (.328/.397/.497, note the SLG) and Seattle, hitting .287/.347/.346 in 136 at-bats and exhausting his rookie eligibility. He spent most of 2015 and 2016 in Triple-A, seeing only scattered action in the majors with Seattle and (after a June trade) the Dodgers.

Oakland Athletics v Seattle Mariners Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

He entered 2017 with a career major league line of .234/.283/.309 with one homer, 21 walks, and 85 strikeouts in 291 at-bats. His defense and versatility had him in the picture as a utility player, but a 21-homer outburst and seizing a job as a regular was, well, unexpected.

Last week at Fangraphs, Travis Sawchik looked at the changes Taylor made to his swing this year, adopting more of a fly ball approach, part of “the air-ball revolution bandwagon” as Sawchik calls it.

Teammate Justin Turner and Dodgers consultant Craig Wallenbrock were big influences, but ultimately it was Taylor who had to believe in the suggested swing changes and implement them successfully, in a pennant race to boot.

Looking back at his record, you can see hints that there was something here although it was always easy to find a reason to dismiss those hints.

He showed some pop in the Northwest League after signing, but college guys from elite programs are expected to do well in short-season ball. He hit for power in High-A, but that was in the California League at High Desert. He slugged .497 in Triple-A in 2014, but that was the Pacific Coast League, granted Tacoma is one of the fairer parks.

So, there were hints but also caveats. It was a reasonable opinion that Taylor could be a very solid player, but not even a wild-eyed optimist would have predicted what he did in 2017.

League Championship Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v Chicago Cubs - Game Five Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images