I don't think the Mariners understand how awards ceremonies are supposed to work. See, the idea is, when you hand out the hardware, the identity of the recipient is supposed to be a surprise. The Tony Awards don't announce their winners two days in advance - if they did, no one would watch the actual show.
I bring this up for a reason. Tomorrow, the Mariners are going to give out their 2013 Minor League awards, and for reasons unknown to me they've already announced the winners. Those shining victors are:
- RHP Taijuan Walker, Starting Pitcher of the Year
- OF Abraham Almonte, Heart and Soul
- RHP Carson Smith, Relief Pitcher of the Year
and, most pertinently to this particular article,
- SS Christopher Taylor, Player of the Year
The first two, of course, we all know. Abe Almonte has been running around the outfield at ludicrous speed for a couple of weeks now, and if you're not sure who Taijuan Walker is you either found this article by mistake or you're related to me (hi, Dad!). Carson Smith has been discussed as a successor to Carter Capps and Stephen Pryor as the Mariners' latest top relief prospect, so even though you might not have heard of him I can pretend like you have for the sake of this paragraph's narrative flow. But who the heck is Chris Taylor?
Chris Taylor is a speedy, slap-hitting shortstop from the University of Virginia. The Mariners scouted him out while looking at Danny Hultzen in 2011; though he was just a sophomore at the time, they nabbed him with their 5th-round pick in the 2012 draft. The buzz coming out of the draft was that he'd be a glove-first player who could work as a utility man and pinch-runner down the line. He was considered to have plus hands, a good arm, acceptable range, and great speed. It wasn't believed that he'd hit a lot.
Then he hit. A lot. Taylor burst onto the scene in 2012 by beating Everett's foes into submission with 15 walks and 7 doubles in 16 games, posting a 1.098 OPS in his first month as a professional baseball player. He fell off the pace after that, but still managed to earn a late-season promotion to Clinton. By the end of the year, he might not have been a top 20 prospect, but his stock had certainly risen.
So 2013 rolled around, and the Mariners brought Taylor to spring training, where he chipped in with a couple RBIs. The Mariners sent him off to High Desert to start the season, and at this point I'm going to let the statistics speak for themselves. In a half-season he put up a .333 batting average and scored 57 runs, both of which were league-leading figures. He placed in the top three in walks (41), stolen bases (19), triples (6), and total bases (126). He made the California League all-star team, then was promptly promoted to Jackson, where he continued to get on base like a madman. His SLG deflated as the year wore on, thanks in part to a removal from High Desert, but his .774 AA OPS was nothing to sneeze at. The guy's a legitimate prospect.
Chris Taylor is not Brad Miller, or Nick Franklin, or Kyle Seager. He doesn't have their power. What Taylor is, though, is a very interesting glove-first shortstop candidate. Unlike Franklin and Seager, Taylor actually has the range to stick at short, and unlike Miller he doesn't have a reputation for booting the ball. He's also got the advantage of speed, something even "crazy legs" Miller is a little bit short on for a top-of-the-order guy. He makes enough contact and has a nice enough batted ball profile that he should be able to run an above average BABIP in the majors, and that coupled with his good walk rates should make him a solid on-base guy. Which, for a shortstop, is nothing to sneeze at.
The Mariners' Minor League Player of the Year award, it seems, has recently been cursed. Vinnie Catricala fell apart completely after receiving it in 2011, and 2012 winner Stefen Romero spent this year being good-not-great in AAA. But Chris Taylor isn't Catricala or Romero. He doesn't need to be great, or even good, with the bat in order to succeed in the major leagues. He just needs to be a mediocre hitter in order to be worthy of starting at short. Even if he can't manage that, there's a place for him as a utility player. What I'm saying is: expect to hear Chris Taylor's name again. Next September, you might see him in Seattle, doing his best to follow in Brad Miller's footsteps and Go the Distance for the M's.