Roache, Taylor giving Brewers plenty to smile about
Club's 2012 draftees develop close relationship as outfielders, held in high regard
GRAND CHUTE, Wis. -- A mid-July Victor Roache home run had the same result as many of the other home runs he has hit this season for the Brewers' Class A affiliate, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers: It induced a smile from teammate Tyrone Taylor.
This particular home run, a July 22 moonshot at Fifth Third Field in Dayton, Ohio, made Taylor flat out laugh.
"I was on base, and when I touched home plate, he was coming to third. I was cracking up, so he just started smiling," said Taylor, who watched Roache's home run carom off the top of Dayton's massive seven-story scoreboard in left field. "It was pretty incredible. Everybody was like, 'Wow.'"
Roache, 21, and Taylor, 19 -- Milwaukee's second and fourth picks, respectively, in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft -- have made smiling a regular occurrence during their first season with the Timber Rattlers. A happy-go-lucky playing style has the young pair among the Brewers' most highly regarded prospects.
Wisconsin manager Matt Erickson doesn't care how old his players are if they have the potential that his left fielder Roache and center fielder Taylor do.
"Tyrone's a guy that plays the premium position in center field, and I know every organization is always looking for a center fielder with offensive run production. He has that ceiling," Erickson said. "And when you're talking about raw power like Victor Roache, every organization is looking for that, and there are not many people out there in the country or in the Draft like that. Again, if he can continue to develop and improve like he has from instructional league to this year, that's another one: extremely high ceiling."
Young and able
Roache, barely able to legally drink, and Taylor, barely out of high school, each took their own route to this season's success.
The two started their professional careers in a bit of a limbo, with Roache recovering from left wrist surgery that ended his Georgia Southern University career early and Taylor dealing with the culture shock of professional baseball after four years of the high school game.
Taylor started soon after the 2012 Draft with the Brewers' Rookie level team in Arizona and jumped out of the gates to a .389/.395/.694 slash line in eight games. The 6-foot, 185-pound right-hander earned himself a quick promotion to Helena, where he kept up his pace for a .385/.467/.641 line before a shoulder injury ended his season after 10 games.
But Taylor's production picked up where it left off this season, and he entered August hitting .278 with 26 doubles, eight home runs, 48 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 98 games with the Timber Rattlers.
"I think there was a little feel-out period for him, wondering how he fit in and where his ability lied within the competition here in the Midwest League," Erickson said. "But I think he quickly found out that he belonged, and he gained some confidence.
"In the month of June, he just went nuts offensively," added Erickson of a month in which Taylor had a slash line of .438/.513/.646.
Roache did not enjoy such a smooth transition. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound right-handed hitter had to wait until the fall instructional league to start his professional career following a grueling seven-month rehab process after his February wrist surgery.
With a 14-month layover before his first official professional at-bat on April 21 -- one in which he stroked a home run off the Fox Cities Stadium scoreboard -- Roache struggled to find his timing early this season.
"Victor Roache is a completely different story," Erickson said. "Out of college, he had a pretty serious injury -- missed a long stretch, missed a lot of at-bats. But that's when you find out about people and their character and their work ethic. He figured out that he was going to have to get in there early and work just as hard, if not harder, than everybody else to get consistent. And now it's showing up in his numbers."
Roache -- who belted 30 home runs as a sophomore at Georgia Southern -- enjoyed his best stretch of the season in July, when he hit .303 with eight home runs and 24 RBIs in 28 games. To him, it is the closest he has felt to his pre-injury days.
"It's just been an uphill battle since then to get my timing back, get my confidence back. Just get that feeling back [from] when I was in college," said Roache, who leads Wisconsin with 15 home runs, seven shy of Khris Davis' '10 record. "I think the second half is starting to get a rhythm for me. I feel like I'm getting back to my old self."
There was a moment when the baseball universe did not sit in the palm of Roache's hand. Roache, the reigning collegiate home run champion and the owner of the No. 9 spot on Baseball America's preseason 2012 Draft rankings, instead found himself on the right-field turf at Jack Stallings Field in Statesboro, Ga., wondering if his baseball career was over.
It was at Georgia Southern, after the junior outfielder rolled over his left wrist on a diving attempt in just his team's sixth game of the '12 season. He was left wondering if his bright professional future was also finished.
"I remember it pretty well," Roache said. "It was a freak accident, diving for a ball and my arm got stuck in the ground and I rolled over it. Snapped my wrist pretty good.
"My initial thought was just, 'Hopefully I can play baseball again.'"
To get back on the field, Roache required a surgery that put six screws and a metal plate in his arm to repair a broken bone, and also two pins to fix a dislocated wrist. A seven-month rehab process followed before he finally started with Milwaukee's instructional league in September and made his first game appearance in April.
Without the injury, though, Roache likely would not have been on the Draft board when the Brewers chose him with pick No. 28. Amateur scouting director Bruce Seid said Milwaukee was happy to take a chance on Roache despite the red flag.
"We did our homework on him," Seid said. "Our doctors gave the thumbs up, and he rehabbed his wrist very well. You're trying to get someone with big upside and who can have some impact, and he was there. What he's done in the last month or so is hopefully a preview of the player he could be."
Roache said his agent, Larry Reynolds, told him prior to the Draft what teams had lost interest due to the injury. To the Ypsilanti, Mich., native, the Brewers' risk-reward type pick motivated him to return stronger.
"That meant a lot to me," Roache said. "They could have taken a whole bunch of other guys, but they still took me. That kind of motivates me to get to work and work hard so it shows they didn't make a mistake by drafting me."
Turning the stereotype
Players straight out of high school are supposed to struggle in their first professional season. Taylor didn't get the memo.
The Torrance, Calif., native has tasted success at every level thus far and has shown his maturity with good plate discipline and an ability to help the Timber Rattlers defensively, on the basepaths and at the plate.
"Typically, history says that the high school kids that come here struggle a little bit, especially offensively. He's done a nice job," Erickson said. "Right from the get-go, you can tell that one of his strengths is pitch selection. It's uncommon for a young hitter to not be a little anxious and chase out of the zone. He's got real good feel for the strike zone, doesn't go out of the zone very much."
To Seid, Taylor has a great makeup to become a five-tool player someday.
"He's got the ability to play center field and be a top-of-the-order type hitter, and he's only 19," Seid said. "He's got the potential to be a five-tool player. Again, 19 years old and you're doing this is pretty impressive."
Taylor began the season at No. 15 on MLB.com's list of Milwaukee's Top 20 Prospects list but moved up all the way to No. 4 on the midseason update. Roache started at No. 8 and remained there.
Taylor made the biggest jump of any player.
"He's a really mature hitter to be 19 years old," Roache said. "He's just an all-around great player, man. It's fun playing with him. Just for him to be able to be in the Midwest League his first professional season and be an everyday center fielder is pretty impressive. He has a really bright future."
Almost like brothers
Roache and Taylor are supposed to be sick of each other. The two play side by side in the outfield, room together off the diamond, and yet they still choose to play catch together prior to most games.
For both, the day-to-day schedule of professional baseball has helped them grow a friendship.
"We've gotten real close, actually," Taylor said. "We're almost like brothers now."
Despite a vast difference in backgrounds -- Roache a Midwest kid who went to school down south in Georgia and Taylor a West Coast teen from California -- Roache says the two have found a lot in common since joining the Brewers' organization together.
"We're a few years apart, but he's really mature for his age," Roache said of Taylor. "He plays center, I play left, so we're always in the outfield talking and having a good time. We definitely have gotten real close over this past year."
Erickson says Roache and Taylor have become leaders despite being two of the team's youngest players and each possessing a quiet nature. With Taylor, the leadership role became more important when Wisconsin lost center fielder Mitch Haniger to Class A Advanced affiliate Brevard County in May.
"He's not really a vocal guy, but he did a nice job in the outfield of kind of taking things over and making sure he was vocal and paying attention to hitters' tendencies and moving our corner outfielders," Erickson said. "It wasn't so much I want him to be a 'Rah-Rah' guy, because that's not really his personality. But it was just more, 'Hey, you're a higher pick, you're a kid that the organization has some expectations for, go out and lead by example with your work ethic, with the way you go about and play the game and your preparation.'"