Outfielder Michael Taylor said he worked on his swing “quite a bit” this offseason with A’s third baseman Josh Donaldson, who himself had a breakout year offensively in 2013.
Taylor also said he and Donaldson were physically in the same place at the same time this winter only once – for Taylor’s wedding in Orlando, Fla., in which bats were not involved.
“We were just sending each other video messages back and forth,” Taylor said. “It’s the age of iPads and video messaging.”
Donaldson had his breakthrough season at the age of 27, hitting .301 with 24 home runs after spending most of his previous five years in the A’s organization in the minors. The emergence resonated with his close friend, Taylor, a fixture at Triple-A Sacramento the past four seasons who is now 28 and entering what could be a pivotal spring training,
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“Obviously he made one heck of a transition for himself, was able to unlock some things for himself last year,” Taylor said. “I kind of worked with him on what was his thought process? What were some of the things he wanted his body to do? So I’ve taken some of those things and tried to incorporate them into this season.”
Taylor comes into this spring out of options, meaning that if he doesn’t make Oakland’s 25-man roster out of camp, they’ll have to designate him for assignment – at which point another team could jump in and claim him. A career .292 hitter in the minors, Taylor has had tantalizing potential since joining the A’s in 2010, but his big-league opportunities have been limited to 74 at-bats over the past three seasons, in which he has hit .135.
After a slow start this spring, Taylor was 5 for 7 in his last three games entering Friday and has a .304 Cactus League average with one home run. The improvement coincided with a meeting with Bob Melvin in which the A’s manager told Taylor to relax and not worry about his contract circumstances.
“Mike’s got I think a different outlook this year,” Melvin said this week. “He has gotten some opportunities but never the type that would allow him to potentially make a team.
“It doesn’t look like he’s at the forefront, but he is also out of options and we do value him. You look at the numbers he puts up in Triple-A and it would suggest that he can contribute here. So he’s going to get quite a few at-bats this spring ... and my feeling is we’re going to see a different guy.”
That’s true to an extent mechanically, where Taylor said he experimented with a big leg kick – like Donaldson’s – and other changes over the winter before tempering it back in camp. He and Donaldson mostly talked about “hitting angles. He learned how to control his leg kick, and that’s what helped him. I was trying to do the same thing, find ultimate control of my levers and put myself in position to square the ball up.”
Mentally, Taylor is one of the more introspective and pragmatic voices to be found in the clubhouse, and that holds true when he talks about his struggles to produce in the majors. Often his call-ups have been sudden, and his playing time inconsistent upon arrival. Last year he was called up on April 13 for three games, sent back down April 22 and recalled May 4 for 10 days before returning to Sacramento, where he spent the rest of the season.
“It’s all perspective, right?” said Taylor, who went 1 for 23 in nine games in Oakland in 2013. “If I was 5 for 15, am I an All-Star? No, I’m not. If I’m 2 for 15, am I the worst player of all time? It’s a tough comparison.
“You look at the numbers, it’s like, ‘Oh, my God.’ But for me there’s just not enough sample size. You just try to get better, do the best with the opportunities you can and you’re thankful for what you have.”
As for the possibility of these being his final days in the A’s organization, Taylor said it’s something he tries not to dwell on.
“I’m obviously a human being, so things cross your mind,” he said. “But at the end of the day, when people ask me what’s going to happen, I have absolutely no idea and neither does anybody else. I know I’m here today. Other than that, that’s all I really care about.”
After collecting three hits in a game Tuesday, Taylor homered and doubled in a loss to Milwaukee on Wednesday. Donaldson wasn’t on hand for the latter, but said: “From what I heard, it was really good, and just from watching (batting practice), you can tell it’s a different guy as well.”
“Taylor’s probably one of my best friends in the organization. I hope that he has success, and I believe that he can have success,” said Donaldson, who played in Sacramento with Taylor from 2010 to 2012. “It’s just a matter of time and getting comfortable with what he’s doing.”