Michael Taylor makes an impression.
From an on the field perspective, his stats speak volumes. Yep, that is a nearly 1000 OPS/400 wOBA in the minors. Yep, he stole 21 bases in 26 attempts last season. But Yogi once said something like numbers are only 90% of half of the game!
I first met Michael in February, 2006 at the Stanford Almuni game. It was a short, informal "hey how are you doing?" kind of introductory conversation. But in that conversation I came away a huge fan. He is a thoughtful, well spoken man without any of the trappings we have come to expect in modern athletes. He is unpretentious and curious.
The first thing you notice upon shaking Taylor's hand is the enormity of it. When I met him I thought "this guy looks like Frank Thomas." Michael is an imposing presence for sure, but to fixate on his size is a disservice. For a guy that big, he is unique in his athletic ability. He reminded me of, for lack of a better comparison, Shaquille O'Neal. He moved fluidly in the field, he had the lightening quick swing of a singles hitter but flashes of the brute power prevalent in late eighties Oakland.
So now that introductions are out of the way, let's get down to the nitty gritty: Who is this Titanic Taylor?
JA: First, what was your reaction to being traded? How did you find out? Did you know you were coming to Oakland by way of Toronto?
MT: I can't really say that I was shocked, but I was a bit surprised because there really had not been much talk or focus on Philadelphia getting into the Roy Halladay trade. I was aware that there was a possibility but it happened extremely fast. I was actually at the gym on the Monday when all the news broke but no one had any concrete details. I actually found out I had been traded the next morning when I received a phone call from Philadelphia's head of minor league player personnel. In that phone call he informed me I was a part of a major league trade for Roy Halladay and that they in turn would flip me to Oakland. That was a shock.
JA: What is it like to first be traded for Roy Halladay and then a guy you played against, in the same conference, in college all on the same day?
MT: I was extremely honored to be a part of the Roy Halladay deal and really excited to be heading to Oakland straight up for a player of Brett Wallace's caliber. I know how talented that guy is as I watched him tear through a tough conference and ruin a lot of weekends for me personally.
JA: You stole A LOT of bases for a big guy last year and were successful 80% of the time. Do you feel like you could one day be a 30/30 guy? Is that a kind of goal you set for yourself or do you focus more on process goals like taking 1,000 swings a day?
MT: Well, honestly my goals are more focused on the process and preparation it takes to have success day in and day out in this game. I try not to set numbers goals because I don't want to sell myself short. What if I get to 30/30 with two weeks left in the season? I do not want to take a mental day off because I reached some preset goal; and vice versa, if I am going to fall short of an arbitrary number I do not want to become discouraged.
JA: What was it like playing in Mexico? Tell us about the stadiums and the fans.
MT: Mexico was a very interesting experience. The passion those fans have for the game is unlike anything in the States. The stadiums were full of bands, dancing and cook-outs. Yes, we had a live bbq in the right field bleachers.
JA: Do you prefer playing in Right or Left? How do you prepare to play defense differently between the two spots?
MT: It does not matter to me. It really just depends on the park actually. Some stadiums are tougher depending on their layout, but personally if I am in right field as opposed to left I try to make sure the ball does not get down into the corner. If that happens it usually means all the runners get an extra base. Not necessarily the case in left.
JA: I just finished watching the home run you hit to complete the cycle in Lehigh Valley. It reminded me of a home run you hit at Santa Clara back in your Stanford days. I have read that your swing has been altered to generate more power since you left the Farm. Is that true and if so how did you go about changing it?
MT: Honestly, my swing has not changed since I was in High School. What has changed, or been refined, is my approach. Also, my understanding of how pitchers and teams want to attack me has improved. The more you are aware of what your opponent wants to do to you the more chance you have to be successful.
JA: Time for a non-baseball question here. If you were locked in a room for 6 hours with a DVD Player and the ability to pick any three movies to watch, what would they be and why?
MT: Anchorman, Major League and Dodgeball. I love to laugh and those are three of my favorite movies of all time. Comedy keeps me in a good mood so If I had to be locked away for six hours I would want my spirits to stay up.
JA: It is rare for a player to make it to Junior College ball. Even more rare to play in the Pac-10. Even more rare to be sitting on the door step of the big leagues after two seasons of minor league ball. Aside from God given talent, what do you attribute your success thus far to?
MT: It takes a lot of hard work and more sacrifice than most people know. But I can sum up all my success with one phrase that I learned during my days as a Cardinal: Work as if everything depends on you and Pray knowing that everything depends on God. That has served me well.
JA: True or False: Toby got robbed in that Heisman vote. Why or why not?
MT: Toby got robbed for a few reasons. 1.) East Coast Bias 2.) Pac-10 does not have a conference championship game so the other candidates got one last game to boost their resumes. 3.) Toby was by far the most consistent and most outstanding running back from beginning to end this year, so how'd he lose the Heisman to a running back? The numbers do not even compare. AND if you wanted to make a tough SEC arguement for Ingram, my rebuttle would be he did not play the whole SEC, it was a down year, and his "Heisman moment" was a missed tackle combined with a defense that was missing one of its best players.
JA: Thanks Michael, can't wait to see you in Oakland.