Once upon a time, Tyrone Taylor was considered to be one of the best prospects in all of baseball. The 2012 second-round draftee was rated as Milwaukee’s Number Two overall prospect prior to the 2014 season according to Baseball America, and he was ranked as the organization’s top prospect and baseball’s 93rd overall before the 2015 season, just ahead of Orlando Arcia. But as Taylor attempted to make one of the game’s most difficult developmental jumps from Class-A Advanced to Double-A, it looked like his career was on the verge of stalling out.
His first go-round in the Southern League came in 2015, the inaugural season for the Biloxi Shuckers. He spent the majority of the year manning center field, but after posting solid True Averages (TAv) of .266 for Wisconsin in 2013 and .267 for Brevard County in 2014, Taylor could only manage to put forth a .260/.312/.337 slash for a TAv of .243. Power has never been a major part of Tyrone’s profile but what little pop he could boast all but evaporated, as he clubbed a mere three home runs while posting an .077 Isolated Power (ISO) mark.
It’s not uncommon for a player to struggle during their first exposure to Double-A, especially when they make it to the level by the tender age of 21. So it wasn’t much of a surprise when Taylor returned to the Southern League for a second time in 2016; his continued struggles were flummoxing. This time, he yielded a .232/.303/.327 batting line across 519 plate appearances, with his TAv of .244 almost mirroring his total from the year prior. Tyrone did run into a few more homers (9), but still posted an ISO below .100 and stole fewer than 10 bases (9) for the first time since debuting in full-season ball. Taylor was Rule 5 eligible for the first time that offseason, and he was left unprotected by the Brewers and unpicked by any other team around the league.
His prospect stock was already plummeting when hamstring issues began to plague Taylor during the following season in 2017. He wasn’t able to get on the field until late June, taking at-bats in the Arizona League for a couple of weeks before heading back to Biloxi for a third time. He wound up finding action in only 25 games for the Shuckers and again, failed to inspire any sort of confidence with his bat. Taylor ended 2017 with a .247/.316/.376 slash in 95 plate appearances, tallying a single home runs and two stolen bases. Another sub-.250 TAv, and Taylor was nowhere near the club’s top-30 prospect rankings and was once again passed over in the Rule 5 Draft.
Despite his struggles, there was at least one man within the front office who was still in Taylor’s corner. “Tyrone Taylor is a guy who really battled injuries last year. He’s fully healthy. He’s had a chance to get over into some big league games. The power stroke seems to be coming back. It’s just great to see him healthy. He’s been a sleeper in the past,” Farm Director Tom Flanagan told MLB Pipeline’s prospect team during Spring Training 2018. The Brewers remained steadfast in their belief that there was still untapped offensive potential within Taylor because of his bat speed and contact ability, and hoped that ability to pepper the gaps with line drives could translate into more home run power. So after three years if struggles in Biloxi, the org decided it was time for a new challenge and assigned Taylor to Triple-A Colorado Springs for the 2018 season.
It was Taylor’s first subjection to the highest level of the minor leagues, and at age-24 he was nearly two and a half years younger than the median age for the Pacific Coast League. The outfielder was anything but overmatched, however. It was quite the contrary, in fact, as Taylor put together an offensive season like he’d never produced before. The Sky Sox outfield featured several MLB veterans throughout the course of the season (including Domingo Santana, Keon Broxton, Rymer Liriano, Quintin Berry, Brett Phillips, and Nate Orf, among others) and yet Taylor still saw his name etched on the lineup card nearly everyday, appearing in 119 games. In 481 trips to the plate, he hit .278/.321/.504, translating to a .265 TAv that was his highest in four years. And, as Flanagan and the Pipeline scouts intimated, the power finally showed up: Tyrone launched 20 balls over the fence after never hitting even double-digit dingers in a single season previously.
The key for Taylor appears to have been a successful indoctrination into the ranks of the “fly ball revolution.” Early on in his career, his batted ball profile resembled that of most speedsters; plenty of ground balls, relying on his fleet feet to beat out base hits. But things began to shift during his injury-shortened season in 2017, as Taylor (who posted fly ball percentages around 38, 30, and 39 percent, respectively, from 2014-16 in AA) hit 65 percent of his batted balls in the air during his rehab stint in Arizona.Taylor then produced nearly 45 percent flyball rate during his 25 games for Biloxi. In Colorado Springs, his fly ball rate jumped up again, this time close to 50 percent. Taylor hit the ball in the air nearly half the time last season, and his 11 percent HR/FB ratio was double his previous career rate.
Perhaps most impressive is that Taylor was able to add more loft to his swing and dramatically improve his power without sacrificing any of his bat-to-ball ability. He posted a .226 ISO and mashed those 20 taters while striking out in only 15.4 percent of his plate appearances, and he’s never whiffed at higher than a 19 percent clip at any level of the minors.
Taylor may have added a newfound power stroke to his tool box in 2018, but the speed and defense part of his profile is still indeed present. He once again swiped double-digit bases, nabbing 13 bags on 17 attempts. He’s also a capable defender at all three outfield spots and spent a majority of his time (56 appearances) in the premium position of center field this season. Taylor piled up 8.9 Fielding Runs Above Average in a shade over 950 innings in the field this season and was credited with a whopping 18 outfield assists, including four double plays.
Tyrone Taylor would have been eligible to become a minor league free agent this fall, but as a reward for his breakout campaign in Colorado Springs, the Milwaukee Brewers purchased his contract and made him a member of the 40 man roster earlier this week. A fallen prospect whose career appeared to be on life support just one year ago, Taylor now seems destined to make his MLB debut at some point in 2019. Milwaukee’s backup outfielder mix could be in a bit of flux this winter, as both Keon Broxton and Domingo Santana will be out of minor league options heading into camp next spring. With his right-handed bat, ability to go out and get it at all three outfield spots, and full slate of minor league options, Tyrone Taylor could wind up playing a meaningful role for the Menomonee Valley Nine next season.