After a Spring Training “battle”, Brad Miller beat out the now departed Nick Franklin for the Seattle Mariners everyday shortstop job. Miller was coming off a strong 2013 campaign and had an impressive Spring, but struggled out of the gate and put up a pedestrian 49 wRC+ in April and 27 wRC+ in May before finally showing some signs of life in June. Meanwhile, Chris Taylor was tearing up Triple-A pitching to the tune of a .774 OPS at the time Willie Bloomquist hit the disabled list in late July. Opportunity struck for the young shortstop, who’s now established himself as a regular member in the Mariner lineup.
Taylor, 23, was the M’s fifth-round pick in the 2012 amateur draft and had an impressive stint with the Everett Aqua Sox at short-season Class-A ball following the selection. He continued to hit well and play a solid shortstop in the minors during 2013 and earned an invite to Spring Training before beginning the 2014 campaign with Triple-A Tacoma. Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill had the following to say about his No. 10 ranked Mariner prospect prior to the start of this season in his annual Prospect Insider Handbook:
“Taylor has exceeded the expectations of most observers, including scouts who saw a fine shortstop but one with little chance to hit enough to warrant big-league consideration, particularly within two years. Taylor has terrific hands and feet, plus enough arm strength suggesting he’s a good bet to play a solid major-league caliber shortstop. He works counts well, understands the strike zone, always has a plan and has quick hands to get the bat head out, suggesting he can manage versus good velocity. His higher-than-ideal strikeout totals are largely due to Taylor’s tendency to become too patient and taking strikes. He’s improved in terms of handling the breaking ball, trusting his hands more and using the right side of the field.”
It’s safe to say that Taylor continued to exceed the expectations of many when he made his major league debut on July 24th — he was thought to be a September call-up candidate at best. Since that date, he’s done nothing but hit and provide a major spark at the bottom of the M’s lineup. Not bad for a so-called “glove first” shortstop.
[pullquote]Taylor was a surprise omission from Baseball America’s midseason top-50 prospect rankings despite his .329/.400/.500 line at the time. He’s been able to handle lefties and righties equally well during his big league stint while continuing his strong defensive play.[/pullquote]
The 23-year old has made 15 starts at shortstop for the major league cub — he also is slated to start tonight’s contest with the Detroit Tigers — and has hit safely in all but one of those starts. That’s an impressive streak for a veteran player to pull off during the season, let alone a rookie. His triple-slash is a robust .385/.431/.481 and his 161 wRC+ currently leads all players on the Mariners active roster — though that’s through just 58 plate appearances for the youngster. A second caveat is the fact Taylor has been aided by a .488 BABIP which he is not likely to maintain as he racks up the at bats and the sample size gets larger. But, there’s no doubt he’s provided a huge boost in the short period of time he’s been with the club.
Prior to the All-Star break the Mariners were getting 63 wRC+ worth of production from the shortstop position, 28th in all of baseball, and it was obvious an upgrade of some kind was needed. Franklin was still waiting in the wings at the point in time and Bloomquist had been seeing his share of time at short after Miller’s solid June turned into a dismal start to July. The club was unwilling to give up on the struggling Miller who they felt just had some kinks to work out. But with Willie heading to the disabled list, the club needed a replacement infielder, and Taylor’s contract would be purchased.
Since the All-Star break, the Mariners have gotten a 129 wRC+ out of the shortstop position which is second to only the Pittsburgh Pirates. Taylor has seen most of the action at short since his call-up — Miller has checked in to face right-handed pitching at times — and his right-handed bat has allowed for some much needed balance in the lineup . So far in August, Taylor has also been one of the best Mariners hitters as his 167 wRC+ trails only Robinson Cano‘s 218 mark.*
Seattle had a significant Trade Deadline when they picked up Austin Jackson and Chris Denorfia, though the pair hasn’t exactly blown anyone away yet, but the M’s also managed to pick up a right-handed shortstop who’s been above average at the plate while playing solid defence in that time. And that could prove to be the best late-July move the club made.
*Both Brad Miller and Endy Chavez have higher August wRC+’s than Taylor, but the two have only 32 plate appearances between them.