One Toronto Blue Jays prospect not being talked about is Samad Taylor and that could start to change
One of the strengths of the Blue Jays’ current front office has been acquiring young talent in exchange for players with limited value to the team. By now, the list is well-known. At the 2016 trade deadline, Drew Hutchison was flipped for Francisco Liriano, Reese McGuire and Harold Ramirez. At last season’s deadline, Liriano was himself exchanged for Teoscar Hernandez and Nori Aoki, while Joe Smith was traded for Thomas Pannone and Samad Taylor.
Of the five prospects acquired, all but Ramirez continue to be well-rated within a strong (very strong) Blue Jays system. Hernandez has followed up a 122 wRC+ at the AAA level (616 PA) with a 112 wRC+ at the MLB level (over a small sample size of 207 PA). He also hasn’t looked out of place in an MLB outfield, maintaining a 0 DRS across all three outfield positions (460.1 innings). McGuire, whose defensive abilities have long made him a sure-fire major-leaguer (at worst, as a backup), hit well at AA in an injury-shortened 2017 season, looking more like a future major-league starter. Pannone is viewed as a high-floor prospect, likely to develop into a back-of-the-rotation starter (or better) on the strength of three average-plus pitches and solid command.
Of the five, the prospect who has received the least attention is Taylor, likely owing to his young age and relative distance from the majors. However, recent scouting grades have started to reflect the strong 2017 performance he produced at Low-A (between Vancouver and Mahoning Valley, Cleveland’s affiliate).
MLB Pipeline gave Taylor a 45 FV rating and ranked him 13th in the Jays system, ahead of McGuire and Pannone (Hernandez is no longer ranked as a prospect). His best-rated attribute is his above-average fielding, good enough that he “possibly could handle shortstop in a pinch”. Pipeline rates his hit, run and arm tools as average, with his power coming just below average.
Prior to the release of MLB Pipeline’s scouting report, Jeff Orchard of KiwiSlugger.com offered a fairly similar review of Taylor, though he was bullish enough on Taylor to give him a 50 FV overall grade. His fielding once again rates as above-average, with his strong hit tool receiving the same grade in this case. Orchard was also more bullish about Taylor’s power (more on that shortly), rating it as average. On the other hand, Orchard was more bearish about Taylor’s arm, which is why he feels Taylor will remain at second base going forward. [Orchard did not have any information to grade Taylor’s run tool.]
Taylor’s performances over his (relatively short) pro career justify these fairly positive views of his MLB potential. In particular, his performance at the plate in 2017 as an 18 year old in short season A-ball stands out among 18 year olds at that level over the last decade or so. For context, last season, only 3% of players at the level were in their age-18 seasons, with 62% of them in an age-21-plus season.
Fangraphs has MiLB data for all levels going back to 2006. Over that time, there have been 97 batters who cracked 100 PA in their age-18 season at short season A-ball. Plate discipline stands out as Taylor’s primary weakness, as he ranks in the bottom half of his peer group in terms of his walk rate, strikeout rate and (logically) walk-to-strikeout ratio. However, Taylor has shown very strong contact and power skills, with his BABIP and ISO both ranking near the top of the pack. Overall, his skill-set has generated a well above-average wRC+, showing that his strong bat-to-ball skills have more than made up for his plate discipline, so far in his career.
Focusing only on 18 year olds who have played short season A-ball leaves out countless players who found themselves at even higher levels in their age-18 season. Since 2006, 4,600 position players have had their age-18 season at some level of MiLB: 91% of them played rookie-ball, 4.6% played at Taylor’s level and 4.4% played at full season A-ball or higher. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to compare 18 year olds playing across different levels. How does Taylor’s above-average performance at short season A (128 wRC+) compare to, say, Elvis Andrus‘ below-average performance at high-A (85 wRC+)? Or, for that matter, Joey Gallo‘s 183 wRC+ in rookie-ball? Nevertheless, an above-average performance beyond rookie-ball at age-18 is impressive.
Comparing Taylor to all short season A players in 2017 highlights his strong batted ball profile, which is evident in his ground ball and fly ball rates. Among 283 batters across the short season A level with 100+ PA, Taylor’s GB% was the 20th lowest mark, while his FB% was 12th highest. He produced the 12th lowest GB/FB of 2017 and the 5th lowest GB/FB among all 18 year olds at the level since 2008 (the start of Fangraphs’ batted ball data). His ability to generate strong launch angles is key to how a batter listed at 160 pounds can produce well above-average power—his .154 ISO ranked 46th among all batters at his level last season. As he develops physically, there is a strong possibility for that power to remain above-average in more difficult levels.
Keeping an eye on Taylor’s performances this season will give us a better sense of his MLB potential, but exactly which level he ends up at is anyone’s guess. As Ryan Mueller noted, the system is filled with middle infield prospects. This, coupled with Taylor’s young age, might lead him to remain at Vancouver for another season. Given his plate discipline struggles, this makes sense—pitchers will only get tougher as he moves up levels, so improving his plate discipline will likely only get harder. The fact that the Blue Jays’ system is loaded with middle infielders means that there is really no reason to rush Taylor through his development. Early signs (from both the stats and the scouting grades) are that he may be a diamond in the rough.
*Featured Image Credit: C Stem- JFtC
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