This time last year, the story of Tyrone Taylor looked like it was heading down a classic minor league path: Flashy prospect flames out. Taylor had just spent a second frustrating year in Double-A Biloxi, and was set to embark on a disheartening third tour of duty. It would have been unthinkable a few years prior, but the man who topped most Brewers prospect lists in 2014 had since fallen off of them entirely. Meanwhile, former teammates like Orlando Arcia and Jorge López have played their way to the majors, and appear likely to stick around for years to come. Prospect development: You win some, you lose some.
The biggest argument against Taylor, at that point, was his dreadful year in 2016, when the Brewers encouraged him to leverage his swing for more power. Instead of taking a step forward, Taylor slid back to a .232/.303/.327 slash line (.244 TAv). The 9 home runs were a career high, but the .095 ISO and the abandonment of the opposite field still left much to be desired. 2017 was meant to be a chance to right those wrongs, but a series of injuries to his hamstring and oblique limited Taylor to just 32 games. With all the other talent up and down the minor league system, Taylor receded into the shadows, never mind that he opened eyes in the Florida State League at the tender age of 20 three years prior.
2018 has been different. Fortified by the thin air of Triple-A Colorado Springs, Taylor has started the year by hitting the cover off the ball, to the tune of a .308/.352/.508 slash line entering Sunday. He’s striking out in only 12.7 percent of his plate appearances, and he’s back to poking the ball the other way when the mood strikes him. He may be hitting a few more fly balls than usual, but it’s hard to classify that as a conscious decision, the effects of Colorado Springs, or a small sample fluke at this point. In any case, the results have been tremendous.
There are, of course, the usual caveats associated with offensive stats at Colorado Springs. One still wonders about Taylor’s ability to recognize and punish breaking balls, for instance—he started to struggle with that aspect of his game in Biloxi, and the flattened-out sliders of Colorado Springs are toothless compared to the sharp bite of, say, a Corey Kluber special. And while Taylor’s .200 Isolated Slugging (ISO) is very strong (easily the strongest of his career, should he keep it up over the full season), the league average ISO in the Pacific Coast League is a robust .154. Among the Sky Sox, who play half of their games in the clouds, that number ticks up to .162. Taylor is patient enough, but he still doesn’t walk much (7.0 percent in 2018, 6.9 percent for his career). And by Baseball Prospectus TAv, his gaudy slash line still only translates to a .259 TAv, or right smack on the nose of league average, in other words. (It’s worth pointing out that other metrics are a little kinder to Taylor’s work this year, as wRC+ has him at a solid 118.)
Taylor’s no slouch on the other side of the ball. He’s spent time at all three outfield slots in 2018 and is capable of manning each position with at least average competency. His above-average speed is an asset in center (and has helped him thieve five bases in six tries this season), but he’s unlikely to set Statcast on fire with elite sprint speeds or five-star catches. The arm is fine for right field, though not exactly a weapon.
In summary: The bat could be “meh” for a corner, unless the Colorado Springs power gains stick around, and the glove could be “meh” for center. Nonetheless, the hit tool and approach are solid, and the rest of his game is sufficiently well-rounded. Taylor’s back to looking like he could provide league-average-or-a-tick-above production in spite of any deficiencies; at the very least, he could bloom into an extremely valuable fourth outfielder.
From a certain point of view, Taylor’s big performance so far this year isn’t too surprising. He’s always flashed high-level potential on the diamond, but he was also known as a standout running back when the Brewers drafted him out of high school in 2012. There’s a narrative around two-sport athletes suggesting that they’re slow to develop once they finally commit to one sport over the other. Taylor had never focused on baseball year-round before starting his professional career, and was a little raw compared to the talent at the top of his draft class. He spent the first few seasons of his professional career dismantling that particular narrative, but it caught up with him in 2015 at Double-A, which is arguably the level at which elite athleticism is no longer able to mask flaws in approach or swing. The injuries buried him even further, costing a year and condemning him to the list of forgotten prospects. And yet here he is, raking at Triple-A in 2018, close to where you’d have guessed he’d be by now, had you seen him play on draft day six years ago.
Only 24, Taylor is young enough to absorb a lost season and still crack the 25-man roster at a reasonable age. He’s got a long line of outfielders currently positioned in front of him. Ryan Braun, Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yelich, Domingo Santana, Brett Phillips, and Keon Broxton are the obvious hurdles, with guys like Kyle Wren and Quintin Berry representing possible obstacles standing between Taylor and a September call-up. But odds are good that one or two of those won’t be wearing Brewers (or Sky Sox) blue in a year, including, possibly, Taylor himself. For now, he’s staked down a future spot on the 40-man roster and is back on his way to earning a shot. That’s a mighty leap for a player to take in a year; time will tell how far Taylor can continue to fly.