Quick, how many LCS MVPs can you name that were drafted in the fifth round? How many were deemed strong enough shortstop prospects that could hold their own against MLB pitching? How many failed, were deemed unsuccessful and traded away? I can’t tell you exactly how many there were, but I can tell you that Chris Taylor is one of them.
In the 2015 Baseball Prospectus Annual, the BP staff wrote:
“It took Taylor less than two years to go from being a fifth-round draft pick to big-league starting shortstop. The defense is no surprise: Taylor was projected to wield a strong glove along with above-average range. He showed a pleasant aptitude toward the stolen base, developing the instincts to steal more than his pure speed might lead one to guess. But it's the pop in his bat that has upgraded his prospect luster, not the pop that puts the ball over the wall but the pop that puts the ball over infielder's gloves. Taylor's approach and quick hands keep him from being overmatched at the plate. He heads into 2015 competing with Brad Miller for the starting shortstop role, one for which both candidates, though different in their strengths, are fully capable. Either way, Taylor's next step will be to improve his contact rate to match his batting eye, giving him more opportunities to put that beautiful BABIP of his to use.”
Taylor had managed a strong showing with the Seattle Mariners that year, hitting .287/.347/.346 over 151 plate appearances. Though failing to hit any home runs, he did have a .291 TAv — which is very impressive for a young shortstop — and produced a 1.8 bWARP. For a player who never made the Top 10 Organization lists and was considered a fringe prospect at best, this was not bad.
Unfortunately, this would be the best version of Taylor that Seattle would get to see. No, it wasn’t an injury that forced the Mariners' hand; it was a failure to adjust to major league pitching. Over the next two season, Taylor would have 105 PAs, in which he hit .175/.223/.227, along with a -0.7 bWARP. So much for the two-win player the Mariners seemed to have developed.
The problem was that the plate discipline Taylor had shown in the minors wasn’t moving with him to the Major League level. He had been an on-base machine, and for some reason, this ability failed him once he arrived in Seattle, leading to a 5.7 percent walk rate. That, and a high strikeout rate (31.4 percent), will get you nowhere.
Taylor’s struggles eventually forced Seattle’s hand, as they had competing options for playing time in Brad Miller and Drew Jackson (now also with the Los Angeles Dodgers , incidentally). So, with no place left to go, Seattle dealt Taylor to the Dodgers in exchange for Zach Lee (who has since moved on to the Padres and been released).
With the Dodgers, Taylor played the type of utility-man role made famous by Ben Zobrist with the Rays. He was capable of being slotted anywhere on the defensive spectrum, though given the Dodgers’ needs, he spent most of his time at second base. He also covered for Justin Turner and Corey Seager every now and then. His bat started to heat up a bit within his new confines, but it was mostly his defensive chops that kept him employed.
And then 2017 kicked in.
I can’t tell you enough how much I’ve loved Taylor throughout the 2017 season. No player on the Dodgers — OK, OK, several players on the Dodgers — has been more exciting than Taylor, who finally broke out and became the player the Mariners had hoped he become within their organization. How did it happen? The way these things usually do: with time and luck.
Taylor played in 140 of the Dodgers’ 162-games, slotting in mostly at center field (47 games) but also contributing in left field (46 G), second base (19 G), shortstop (10 G), and third base (3 G). If that doesn’t yell “versatility,” I don’t know what does.
Taylor increased his walk-rate (from 6.6 to 8.8 percent) and decreased his strikeout-rate (from 26.7 to 25.0 percent), while hitting .288/.354/.497, with a career-high 21 home runs (up from a measely 1 his previous season). He hit for his highest TAv at .309, and a 5.7 bWARP that was good for 19th in all of MLB. How does this happen? And more importantly, is this breakout sustainable?
According to Justin Turner, who was asked about his teammate after his Game 3 heroics in the NLCS, Taylor has worked on his own to become a better player. Taylor has adopted many of the changes that Turner (and Daniel Murphy, JD Martinez, Cody Bellinger, and many other recent breakout players) have adopted and has reaped the benefits.
And, like those before him, if Taylor can keep this up, then it’s not crazy to think that he may play an even bigger role for the Dodgers next season, whether at a regular position or as the Swiss-army knife that he’s proven to be.
During this postseason, the light has shined on Turner, Yasiel Puig, Yu Darvish, and even Kiké Hernandez and his three-home run game. But of those players, it was Taylor who also contributed day-in and day-out to a Dodger’s team throughout the regular season, and helped it pad the depth problems that have plagued them for years.
He may be far from becoming a household name, but to the hearts of many Mariners fans and SABR-minded individuals, he’s now closer to our hearts.
Martin Alonso writes for Beyond the Box Score and BP Bronx and is constantly geeking out over baseball and Star Wars. You can find him on Twitter at @martnar.