Oakland A's Prospect Q&A: Michael Taylor

After a somewhat disappointing first season in the Oakland A's organization, Michael Taylor had a much better sophomore campaign as a member of the A's. Taylor overcame an early season injury to post an 816 OPS with the Sacramento River Cats and then made his major league debut with the A's in September. We spoke with Taylor this week about his off-season work, his goals for next year and more...

OaklandClubhouse: You are interning this off-season with KNBR (a sports-talk radio station in the Bay Area). What sort of stuff do they have you working on?

Michael Taylor: Right now, I'm actually interning for the program director. One of the reasons that I chose to do this was because it gives me quite a bit of flexibility to not only do the training and stuff I want to get in, but also make trips and do some of the other things that I wanted to do.

Mainly, I'm actually a man-on-the-street. I mainly walk around and collect sound about how people are feeling about sports and different topics. Then I get to take sound back, upload it and then cut and edit it. We use it for a segment called ‘What's Bugging You?' It's at 1:15pm everyday on the Fitz and Brooks show. I actually get to be on air whenever I'm in the studio. Pretty much whenever I'm here in town and I'm not out of town, I go in and get to commentate on the sound I bring in with them too.

It's been a cool experience. I do some other sound editing. They replayed the World Series [on Tuesday night] and I got to edit that. Stuff like that. I'm just getting to learn the other side of the business and what it takes to run a show and what it takes to be on a show.

OC: Did you do any of that sort of stuff when you were at Stanford?

MT: No. Not at all. I was a baseball player and a political science major. I didn't have a whole lot of media training. It's kind of cool to endeavor into something a little bit different. Being in the world that I'm in, you don't always get to see what people think or how people feel. You get to see them when they are off-air and off-camera and you get to hear from them all of the different experiences and what they have learned over the years. Like I said, it's a unique opportunity.

OC: Has anyone recognized you when you've been out asking questions for the ‘What's Bugging You?' segment?

MT: I've been recognized twice. Once by an A's fan and once from someone who just recognized the show. [On the show] they kind of talk up the fact that I play and my size and whatnot. I'm the biggest guy in the office, for sure. So they like to play that up. I walk around with a KNBR microphone. I think one guy down in the Financial District [in San Francisco] put two-and-two together. But I'm still pretty anonymous. [laughs]

OC: How is it being in the Bay Area during the off-season? Pretty similar to when you were in college, or it is different now a few years removed from that stage in your life?

MT: A little bit different. I was on campus the other day and it's kind of funny how young everyone looks. I don't feel like it has been that long, but everyone looks like a little kid. It's just a little bit different when you get a little bit older.

I love it out here. It's 79 degrees right now and there's no humidity and there is not a cloud in the sky. Not only it is a beautiful place to wake-up to, but it's just a really great place to workout. I've already started training. I started September 30th. I took a day off [after the season ended] and then started getting after it. Right now, I'm actually involved in two-a-day stuff. I work out every morning starting at 7:30am before I go in [to the studio] for about two hours. Then I go home and have another workout at about 3:45pm for another hour or two.

Right now, I'm just trying to get my body to where I want it, and in a few weeks I'll start swinging. It's just one of those things where if I was in New York or somewhere else where it was freezing, it would just be that much more difficult to be happy about getting up in the morning and going running or doing my other training. But when it's 65-70 degrees, it's definitely a lot more tolerable and something that you look forward to.

OC: Now that you've had a month to look back on the season, how are you feeling about what you were able to accomplish and the improvements you were able to make?

MT: One of the funny things about me is that I'm pretty much a forward-thinking person. Although I have reflected some and have taken a little to time to think about how cool it was to have realized that dream, I've honestly thought more about the things I need to do to put myself in the best situation to make the team this spring. That's one of the reasons that I didn't take any time off. This is my first full off-season and I wanted to use every day of it to get my body and myself in place physically early enough so that once I felt like I was physically where I wanted to be, I could start working on the skill-side of it at a very good physical condition.

Obviously it's a happier time. Playing in the big leagues versus not playing in the big leagues, you'll take that any day of the week, but I've spent more time thinking about what I need to do to be consistent and to be the best version of myself come February.

OC: What did you take away most from that month in the big leagues, both when you were on the field and even when you were on the bench and getting to watch the game from that perspective as opposed to being in the crowd?

MT: I think that the biggest learning experiences were on the field. I think the game is definitely faster. It's the same game, but everything is a little bit faster and there is a little bit more of a dire circumstance. Everything sort of feels like it is the final hour. Even in Oakland in September when we were mathematically out of it, it still feels like that. It still feels like every pitch is important, every play is important. The speed of everything that's going on in the box, it's just that much quicker.

It actually feels faster on defense than it does when you are hitting. Guys throw hard, but the speed of defending is different. It's not that guys are faster, but that they are smarter. Guys know what they are doing. They are looking for mistakes. You just have to be that much more perfect in your routes and that much more perfect in your transition. You can't give people the opportunity to do something [on the bases] because if they get it, they are going to take advantage of it. That was something that you don't get at the minor league level where guys are just grinding it out. It's a little bit different.

What I take away is that I have the opportunity to play there. I feel like if I work hard enough and get myself to where I want to be, I can be someone who can play at the major league level. Until you kind of get there, you don't know. You have that doubt. It's not like a doubt like I'm not going to be able to play there, but until you experience something, it's hard to speak emphatically on it.

It's not that you are saying, ‘yes, I can be a star,' or something. It's more like ‘if I work my butt off and I can figure out what it takes to be myself and be the best version of myself, I can be a productive player here.' That's a bit reassuring because without that opportunity, you don't know that. You might think you know that, but you don't know. I think getting that experience gave me the idea that if I go to work and if I go to the drawing board here and put as much effort into being the best player that I can, I will hopefully be a guy who can play there a long time.

OC: Was it fun to watch the post-season and see Derek Holland pitch as well as he did and know that you hit a homerun off of him?

MT: You know what, I had someone say that to me and I honestly hadn't thought about it. I hadn't really realized it until one of my buddies who I am living with and who also plays baseball said, ‘hey man, didn't you hit your homer off of that guy?' It's funny, but I really don't think about stuff like that. Looking back on it, I think it's cool, but my personality is not to be focused on that stuff. You fail so much. If you succeed that's great, but you fail so much as a baseball player that I can't get caught up too much in the success that I do have. I have such a long way to go as a player. If I was Albert Pujols or somebody, maybe I'd feel a little different, but 30 at-bats in 29 odd days [in the big leagues], I'm just more concerned about trying to stay in the big leagues.

OC: I had a chance to talk with Todd Steverson when I was in Arizona a few weeks ago. He mentioned that you and he worked on getting yourself in a good position to turn on a pitch and hit a homerun if the pitch presented that opportunity. Is that something you think you improved on by the end of the season?

MT: Yeah. We worked on quite a lot of stuff. Most hitters will tell you that being in the right position – whether you want to call it launch position or hitting position or whatever your terminology is – is the most important thing. You have to be ready to hit when the guy is getting rid of the ball. That's sort of the dance you have – timing or rhythm or however you want to say it – that we have with pitchers. They are trying to disrupt that and you are trying to be ready to cover as many different kinds of pitches or the particular area of the plate that you can.

The bigger you are, the more leverage that you have, the bigger your body is, the more difficult it is for your body to repeat that. That's why you see big guys always saying ‘I'm trying to get my swing down'. Sometimes when you have a lot of big moving parts, it's easier to get out of whack. You have to work that much harder and be that much more focused on being in that right position so that if the pitch is there, you can do with it what you want to or are supposed to.

We worked on that all year. I got better at it. I'll be working on that all off-season and I'll be working on that all year next year, as well. That's just the constant battle.

OC: In Sacramento, you guys had a great year and really seemed like the best team in that league from the start of the year. Was there a different feel in the clubhouse this year as compared to last year when you guys struggled early and then really came on strong the final month or so of the season?

MT: Yeah, a little bit. We knew we were good last year and we knew we were good this year. We had a few more veterans on the team this year, veteran offense players to start the year. I think that probably helped. Guys like Wes Timmons and even Jai Miller. He's kind of been around. We got to know him a little bit last year and then he was back. I had been there for a year and almost all of the guys were back for a second year. Anthony Recker is another guy who had spent a few years in Triple-A. It wasn't new to anybody. It was no longer ‘we're good but we haven't played in this place yet.' Everyone had played in all of the parks that you were going to play in. Everyone knew everything about everyone else. It was more of a ‘settle down. We are really good. We are going to win' kind of attitude.'

We weren't going to score 15 runs everyday, but we knew we were good. I think that it showed. Towards the end of the year we got broken up a little bit, but that's just Triple-A baseball. You are definitely losing your best relievers and you are probably going to lose a couple of your successful position players and probably a couple of starters, too. We didn't win the championship, but we made it all the way to the finals. If we keep that team together, I think we are the best team in Triple-A. I don't think that's really that tough of a question at all.

OC: How much more comfortable was it for you this year having spent a season in the organization the year before?

MT: Yeah, it was. It was nice to know people and to have a better handle on personalities and to be able to joke with those guys.

The thing about baseball is that you fail so much, so it's nice to know guys who know you and who know how to get you out of your own head and who you can joke with and share stuff with. When you come over to a new organization, people are kind of feeling you out. Especially when you talk about playing at this level when guys have been playing together coming up and you are sort of inserted and don't know very many people. It was good to see familiar faces and have some of the familiar jokes. It definitely made the year that much more fun.

OC: Working for the radio station, it will be hard to ignore what the A's are doing this off-season. With all four outfielders/DHs on the team filing for free agency, how much are you going to be paying attention to what moves the team makes, or are you going to be setting your own schedule and sticking to that regardless of the moves?

MT: I set my own schedule and don't really worry about it. I have absolutely no control over who's there and who is not there. What I know today is that I will be going to spring training and will be attempting to win a job somewhere. Like I said, I am always trying to be the best version of myself. Hopefully that version of me is good enough to be at the highest level. If it's not, I will evaluate where I can get better and work on that and hopefully I can get better in Sacramento or wherever they choose to place me.

I think it would be kind of foolharded for me to worry about what they are going to do. You've got to be one of the best players to play in the big leagues. No matter what they do, if you go out there and never make out, your opportunities will be there. That's my goal. My goal is to get myself ready so that every time someone throws a pitch, I'm dangerous and never get out. Somewhere between those two spectrums, I'll fall and that's what I'm focusing on.

OC: Was there a veteran that you learned a lot from or spent a lot of time with during your month with the A's?

MT: The one thing that I really liked about being up there with that team is that we just had a lot of really nice guys. We did not have a lot of bitter guys. You hear stories about the salty veterans. Even the guys who have had a lot of time [in the big leagues] – the Josh Willinghams and the Coco Crisps – they were all very, very nice guys and were all willing to help. They had a lot of knowledge to share from their careers.

It was good to not only watch them and watch the things that they did – whether it was pulling back in certain situations or getting extra work in in certain situations and how they dealt with things mentally – I tried to watch that. If there was a private moment, I would ask them ‘what were you thinking about in that certain situation?' or ‘what are you working on?' that sort of thing. I just tried to watch and then quietly sneak off by myself and see how that worked. Just tried to take in as much as I could.

When you start to talk about guys who have three, four, five even eight or nine years in the big leagues, they have been doing something really right for a very long time. If I can take one ounce of that and apply it to myself, I'm that much better for it. Try to pay attention and not miss anything. That was what I was trying to do for those 30 days.

OC: Have you guys talked much about the Japan trip? Are you excited about the possibility of going over there before the season starts?

MT: It's one of those things, I'm most excited about the opportunity to make the team. [laughs] Obviously it would be awesome and an amazing experience to be somewhere I haven't been before. That would be fantastic. But at the end of the day, that's so far ahead of where I am at right now. I have to go and get myself concentrated and focused on being good enough to be on the team before I can think of how cool it would be to go to Japan. That's kind of all I think about in the morning and when my alarm clock goes off at 7:00am, I'm waking up with the intent of making this day a day where I get a half a step closer to making the team and staying there. All of the little perks and goodies will come after I accomplish that.

OC: You began the season with a wrist injury that kept you out for the first few weeks of the season. Did that injury ever come into play again after you returned or was it pretty much 100 percent after that?

MT: It was pretty good. I think early on in the year, I had to build strength up. There were six or seven weeks where I didn't lift weights when I was hurt. I didn't really lift weights at all when I was in Arizona. Just building strength back up and getting my swing back. It's just completely different. Swinging and that swing strength, the mobility and stuff like that, it's just a completely different animal.

I didn't really hit that much before they sent me out [to play with Sacramento]. I think I had played in two intra-squad games – one of which I played in five innings and one of which I played in seven innings. I think I took BP twice. Then we had a guy get hurt and the opportunity arose for me to head out to Memphis. I kind of had to learn and work on the fly. It wasn't necessarily easy but I've been doing it a long time and it comes back to you rather quickly. It was really just a matter of getting my reps in so that my wrists were strong and my obliques were strong and all of those little things that you need to be successful as a hitter.

OC: They probably wanted to get you out of there before anything else could happen to you like with Sean Doolittle or something.

MT: I was actually there when Doolittle did that [hurt his wrist while finishing a rehab of a knee injury]. It's just unfortunate because he can really play. He's actually got a great arm too. I think people will be very, very surprised if he sticks on the mound. I got to play catch with the guy every day and it's just a very easy mid-90s arm. I don't know how else to say it. Anytime you have 93-95 from the leftside that's easy and it moves, and he's already pitched before, so it's nothing new, I think the transition will be really easy for him.

You can tell when a guy has something special and he has a very special arm.

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