The first time Tyrone Taylor stepped in the batter’s box in Colorado Springs, he knew he was in the right place.
“I took a little bit of BP yesterday,” the Sky Sox outfielder said Tuesday, “and saw how the ball was flying. I’m pretty excited.”
Any change of scenery would have been a sight for his sore eyes, but one that brings him to a hitter-friendly elevation of 6,531 feet was particularly welcome.
For the past three years, Taylor has languished at Double-A in a tale of how not to handle a prospect’s progression. An instant success as a second-round pick out of high school, Taylor made his Double-A debut at age 20 when he was considered a top-100 prospect in baseball and the No. 1 up-and-comer in Milwaukee’s organization, according to Baseball America.
Taylor spent his first season in Double-A at age 21 in 2015 and he’s just now escaping to Triple-A, regarded by the experts as little more than organizational filler but very much in possession of the skills that had him pegged for stardom.
So, what happened?
For starters, it appears the Brewers missed the tell-tale signs of a player who needed seasoning. He entered pro ball as an instant gap-hitting success – hitting 33 doubles as a 19-year-old in Low-A and then 36 at 20 in High-A. But his plate patience lagged behind, as he drew only 74 combined walks over 1,122 plate appearances in those first two seasons.
His overall numbers dipped in that first full season in Double-A, as he slashed .260/.312/.337 (AVG/OBP/SLG), and then the Brewers let him languish at the same level the following year as he went .232/.303/.327.
His numbers improved to .287/.355/.509 last year, but that was over just 25 games as he suffered oblique, hamstring and other ailments.
Being injured, carrying a target of a former top prospect and spending too much time at the same level can wreak havoc on confidence and performance.
“You could get caught up in that stuff easily, I feel like,” Taylor said. “But for me, I’d just go out there and play and have fun. I didn’t really think about all that stuff.”
Taylor, a former standout football player, has long been considered one of the top defensive outfielders in the organization. At 24 there are only six players among the 27 on the Sky Sox initial roster who are younger than him.
Now he’ll hope to bring the bat along with the other skills and recapture the momentum he once had in a setting where that has a history of happening. Back in 2009, Carlos Gonzalez arrived in Colorado Springs as a former top prospect who had begun to founder after quick promotions before his 23rd birthday. He then spent two months in Colorado Springs, hitting .339/.418/.630 for the Sky Sox with 59 RBIs in 48 games and, confidence regained, he has starred with the Rockies ever since.
It's difficult to see a path remaining for Taylor with the Brewers, as the big league club is loaded with outfielders like Ryan Braun, Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich, and Keon Broxton and Brett Phillips will play with him in Triple-A.
He doesn't mind.
"I think it’s awesome how the Brewers picked up those guys," he said of Cain and Yelich, acquired this offseason. "It shows they want to win. You want to be part of an organization that wants to win, because I want to win."
Now Taylor will look to follow the same progression and recapture the form that once had Baseball America raving: “Taylor projects to be a top-of-the-order hitter in the majors who will be effective at the plate and in the field.”
He’s certainly in the right place to do it.