Michael Taylor has seen the enemy ... and it is him.
When the big, strong outfield prospect came to the A's organization in December 2009, he brought a strong resume with him. With the Phillies, who had drafted him out of Stanford in the fifth round of the 2007 Draft, Taylor had hit .303 and slugged .507. His first year with Oakland, however, he hit just .272 with a .392 slugging percentage.
"Last year was such a struggle, I was so focused on trying to take the perfect swing," Taylor said. "It takes away my natural ability for me. I don't play the game well when I play like that. Now I'm up there, I put my work in, but once the game starts, I'm just looking for an area and I'm hitting. It's good to have that mentality."
"I said this in college all the time: If I was stupid, I'd be a millionaire," Taylor joked. "You want to be able to play the game and have knowledge of the game, but you don't want to be evaluating everything. I'm a problem-solver by nature and it's one of the things I like most about myself. But sometimes you don't have to reinvent the wheel.
"It doesn't make it any better. You just end up more miserable. The game is so hard as it is. Why make it harder? It makes for a really long year. Last year was a really long year precisely for that reason. I'm just not going to do that."
This spring, then, has been all about simplification for the outfielder. He was told from the outset that he didn't have an opportunity to make the 25-man roster right out of camp. While he'd obviously rather have such an opportunity, it did afford him the ability to get himself right physically and mentally to show the A's he's the guy they thought they were trading for in the first place.
"Honestly, I think I've accomplished more this spring than any other I've been in. I've reestablished a lot of my own personal confidence in myself. One goal I had was to get comfortable and have fun, to get to a position where I'm not searching for anything. I feel that way.
"One of the things that's very unique about baseball, really any industry with a limited amount of positions, is that windows open and close very quickly. Part of me wishes I had this mentality last year because the window was much wider open and they were much higher on me. But all you can do is go out and play and hopefully reopen some eyes, show somebody who has the ability to give you that chance that you can still make a big impact."
A's Top 10 Prospects
1. Grant Green, SS: The 2009 first-round pick had a very solid first full season, making the California League All-Star team, going to the Futures Game and hitting .318/.363/.520 with 20 homers and 87 RBIs. He hits the ball hard to all fields and should have at least average power moving forward, though he could benefit from improving his plate discipline some. The questions come with his defense. He'll stay at short in Double-A for now, but could end up being a solid offensive-minded second baseman when all is said and done.
2. Chris Carter, 1B/OF: Putting aside the 0-for-33 start to his big league career, Carter did pretty much what he's done for much of his professional career, hit for power. After a slow start in Triple-A, he recovered by slugging .637 in the second half and finishing with 31 homers and 94 RBIs. He can play first and left, but there are roadblocks at both spots and at DH now. Despite that, he should hit his way somehow into the lineup for good this season.
3. Michael Choice, OF: Considered to be the best impact bat coming from the Division I college ranks, the A's were thrilled that Choice made it to them at No. 10 in last year's Draft. He's got plus raw power that he showed he's ready to use during his pro debut (.627 slugging in 102 at-bats). He's going to strike out a bunch, but he's also going to draw plenty of walks, so there's no cause for alarm. He could head right to the California League to make his full-season debut.
4. Ian Krol, LHP: Though a high schooler taken in the 2009 Draft, Krol pitches more like a college lefty, with advanced ability. A Midwest League All-Star in 2010, he led the circuit with his 2.65 ERA. His 2.80 combined ERA for the year was top in the A's system, and he was MLB.com's choice for the organization's Pitcher of the Year as a result. He walked only 28 in 138 1/3 total innings, locating all three of his pitches extremely well. He won't turn 20 until May, but he'll be in the California League to start the season.
WHEN WILL THEY ARRIVE?
6. Yordy Cabrera, SS: Thought to be one of the better prep position players in last year's Draft, the A's were able to get him in the second round. He may seem too big to play shortstop, but he's got solid actions and will at least begin his career there. If he has to move to third, his plus arm will play there as well. So will his bat, which should provide enough power and production for the position. It will be interesting to see how he handles the full-season Midwest League in 2011.
7. Max Stassi, C: It's hard not to like a backstop who can catch, throw, block and handle a staff, all while still a teenager. His bat is better than his first full season (.229/.310/.380) looks, with decent bat speed and what should be decent power. He'll need to cut down on his strikeouts, though he's not afraid to go deep into counts. A move to the hitter-friendly California League should help those numbers out a bit in 2011.
8. Aaron Shipman, OF: The A's went after more high-upside high school hitters in the 2010 Draft, and Shipman might have the most upside of any of them. The third-round pick has a ton of tools, highlighted by plus speed that should help make him a basestealing threat and an outstanding defensive center fielder. More of a leadoff type than a middle-of-the-order guy, it might take time for Shipman to be big league ready, but he also might be worth the wait.
9. Renato Nunez, 3B: Over the past couple of years, the A's have been much busier on the international front. Last summer, they signed Nunez out of Venezuela for $2.2 million. He'll be just 17 come April, so there's no need for anyone to buy tickets in Oakland to see him for a long while, but the reports on Nunez are that he should hit for plenty of power and average. Whether he's a third baseman long-term remains to be seen, but if the offense develops as hoped, his defensive home won't matter.
10. Michael Taylor, OF: It was a bit of a lost season for Taylor in 2010, his first in the A's organization. He had done nothing but hit for average and power with the Phillies, but it never came together last season. With no room in Oakland anyway, he'll get a chance to prove himself again with Sacramento. He still has a good chance to establish himself as a prototypical toolsy right fielder.
Under the Radar
Adrian Cardenas, 2B: Even after struggling initially in Triple-A, Cardenas rebounded and hit .304 in 2010, good for second in the organization. He'll get on base and hit doubles, but that's about the extent of his power. The A's have had him play second and third, so maybe an offensive-minded utility career is in his future, especially with a second baseman like Weeks in the system.
Shawn Haviland, RHP: A 33rd-round pick as a senior out of Harvard isn't expected to do too much as a pro. Keep in mind that Haviland is now 25, but it's hard not to note that the 2008 draftee had a 3.65 ERA in the California League, good for fifth in the circuit (he was third in the organization). His 169 strikeouts also led the A's system (He's got a career 8.8 K/9 rate). Who knows what the A's have on their hands here, but suffice to say Haviland has already exceeded expectations.
Hitter of the Year -- Green
It might be the obvious choice, but that's OK. Green will again hit for average and power as he gets close to knocking on the door, walking away with his second straight Hitter of the Year Award.
Pitcher of the Year -- Krol
This isn't only because he's the lone pitcher in the Top 10. Krol will prove the California League isn't a big deal and will top the system once again in ERA, all while earning a promotion to Double-A at age 20.