I missed Chris Taylor’s explosive introduction to World Series baseball.
I was sitting in the passenger seat of my wife’s car — yes, Chelsea was dragging me to the theater again — and checking my Twitter feed on my phone when it became clear Taylor, the former Seattle Mariner who’s now batting leadoff for the National League-champion Los Angeles Dodgers, had done something.
I didn’t know exactly what Taylor had done, as my feed, which is comprised largely of Seattle-area sports media members, was short on specifics. I later learned Taylor had hit the first pitch delivered by a Houston Astros pitcher in the series out of the park for a homer. But what my feed lacked in details it more than made for in snark. No one tweeted it directly, but the implication was clear: What were the Mariners thinking when they traded Taylor away? It was yet another example of a player like Taylor, who had a breakthrough 21-homer season this year, going on to bigger and better things upon leaving Seattle.
I, however, had a different reaction. Having covered Taylor when he played for the Everett AquaSox in 2012, I was happy for him.
I’m sure Pat Dillon’s reaction was similar. Just hours earlier Dillon, the longtime AquaSox broadcaster, and I had been reminiscing about Taylor’s time playing for Seattle’s Northwest League affiliate in Everett.
“To Chris’ credit he got another opportunity and made the most of it,” Dillon said. “Nobody could have seen the success Chris Taylor’s had in 2017 coming, but it couldn’t happen to a better guy.”
Taylor came out of nowhere to become one of the keys to Los Angeles’ 104-win campaign. Prior to this season Taylor had a total of 291 major-league at bats spread across three years, batting .234 with one home run. But this season he became the ultimate glue guy for the Dodgers. He’s used all over the field, making starts at five different positions. He’s hit, sporting a triple-slash line of .288/.354/.496, while adding 17 stolen bases. His season was worth 4.7 wins above replacement according to FanGraphs.com, making him the third most-valuable player on the team behind Corey Seager and Justin Turner, but ahead of Clayton Kershaw and anyone on the Mariners. Then he continued his strong play in the postseason, being named co-MVP of the National League Championship Series.
These type of exploits were rarely seen from Taylor in a Mariners uniform. But they were commonplace when he played for the AquaSox.
Taylor was a professional baseball newbie when he played for Everett. He was selected in the fifth round of the 2012 draft out of the University of Virginia, and his first taste of pro ball came with the AquaSox. As Everett’s starting shortstop Taylor displayed both good range and soft hands. At the plate he sprayed line drives all over the field. And on a team full of players touted for their speed Taylor may have been the fastest. He slashed .328/.430/.474 in 37 games before earning his promotion.
Everett’s 2012 season is mostly remembered for being the summer of Zunino, as Mike Zunino was a sensation as he launched 10 homers in his month in Everett. Sox teammate Patrick Kivlehan was named the league’s MVP. But in his own understated way, Taylor was every bit as good a player as either of them.
“I remember when he was drafted the word was that he was a defense-first shortstop, and even though he hit with Virginia that wasn’t really his calling card,” Dillon said. “But when he arrived at Everett he did everything well. He walked more than he struck out, he had gap-to-gap power, he had good speed and stole some bases. He had good tools. And he was a very level-headed player, there were no high highs or low lows.”
Taylor had a good debut with the Mariners in 2014, and he came to spring training the next year as the favorite to win the everyday job at shortstop. However, Taylor suffered a broken bone in his wrist during spring training, and when he returned he wasn’t the same. Taylor joined the merry-go-round between Seattle and the minors, hitting every time he was sent down to Triple-A Tacoma, then flailing every time he was called back up. The Mariners’ patience finally ran out in June of 2016 when they traded Taylor to the Dodgers for minor-league pitcher Zach Lee, a deal that elicited little more than a shrug.
Lee never threw a pitch for the Mariners, while Taylor has gone on to postseason heroics. People no longer view the trade with ambivalence.
“Being a Mariners fan, it would be great to have kept everyone in the organization who’s having success elsewhere,” Dillon said. “But I’m very happy for Chris Taylor. And for Patrick Kivlehan, who had some time with the Reds this season. And Tyler Olson, who was in the Indians’ bullpen and had a fine season. When you see those guys here — and all the players who come through Everett — they work hard and nothing is given to them. They have to earn each step up the minor-league ladder.
“Nobody saw this season coming for Chris Taylor, him hitting 21 home runs,” Dillon added. “But based on his background and what we saw five years ago, it’s surprising but not that surprising.”
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.