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Taylor upbeat, relaxed despite uncertain future

Once-prized top prospect is having excellent spring, but out of options with A's

PHOENIX -- Michael Taylor is a naturally upbeat, outgoing guy. That much is obvious to any new player in the A's clubhouse this spring.

But for those who were a part of Taylor's previous four big league camps, or his brief stints on the 25-man roster, Taylor seems like a different guy.

It's because the cerebral, introspective Taylor is in a different place in his life, and he won't hold back from being himself anymore. No longer is he the touted 22-year-old prospect affixed with the "can't miss" label. Taylor is now 28 with less than 60 days of Major League service time.

But he's a newlywed and out of Minor League options, meaning if the A's once more try to send him to Triple-A, he first must clear waivers -- an unlikely occurrence.

Taylor's future is up in the air. Either he makes the A's Opening Day roster, which would be a first and would take a multitude of things to go his way, or he heads off to another team after four years in the Oakland organization.

"I want to enjoy whatever time and opportunities I have, and what they really are is playing baseball, and the rest of it doesn't really matter," Taylor said last week, a few hours before he continued his impressive spring with a home run and stolen base against the Royals. "No matter what happens, good game or bad game, I'm going to be happy. I'm a happy guy. I think I put too much emphasis, pressure on myself to perform or to find a way to do something."

The statement is an ode to Taylor's own advice to youth players that appeared in the Stanford media guide in 2006 during his sophomore season: "Have fun and don't let grown-ups spoil your fun.

"If you do that, it takes the joy away from the game," Taylor said. "I've been able to let my personality come out a little more this year. I'm not a quiet guy, but before, I was just kind of keeping to myself and playing that role."

Whether it was that or the infrequent playing time, Taylor is just 10-for-74 in the Major Leagues, numbers that pale in comparison to his gaudy Minor League statistics that back up the honors, praise and expectations hoisted on Taylor early in his career.

But this is a different Michael Taylor, perhaps the real version, finally introducing himself on the big stage. Better late than never.

"We've seen a different guy this spring. He's been terrific," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "This is a different guy than we've seen at the big league level. He's showing the ability and the capabilities of what he does in Triple-A. I think he's finally relaxed here and not putting too much pressure on himself. He knows that his situation is going to be ironed out regardless at the end. I know his mindset is to just go out there and play, not put too much pressure on himself and it will work out in the end, either way."

Melvin knows this because it is what he told Taylor to do at the beginning of the month: "Just play and what the definition of that word is," Melvin said.

Have fun, in other words, which Taylor is doing.

Taylor has played in more games than any other A's player this spring, in part because of Craig Gentry's back injury, and heading into Tuesday, has yielded a .302 average, three home runs, four doubles, five walks and a .992 OPS. Those numbers blow away his career .222 average and .659 OPS during Spring Training.

"If you're trying to establish yourself and you're playing once every couple days, it just feels like there is more impetus to do something in those moments," Taylor said. "I've gotten a chance to play and start and showcase myself, I guess would be the mantra of the spring."

If Taylor, who met his new wife, Addie, during Spring Training four years ago, makes the A's, it would be in a reserve role with sparse playing time, a position better suited for Gentry or non-roster invitee Sam Fuld. Despite the strong spring, Taylor could be running third for one spot.

"I've seen guys in situations where it looked hopeless and it worked out perfect, and some guys where you thought, 'This is for sure going to happen,' and two weeks later, oh my God, everything changed," Taylor said.

"Experiences are what make us who we are. I'll be a better father, a better husband and make better decisions for the next 50-60 years based on what's happened the last 2-3 years. I also look back on who I was when I was 22 years old, and now I'm 28. It took everything that's happened from then to now, whether in baseball or a life event, to get me where I am now. But I'm not in a position to affect what happens next, so I can't worry about it."

That doesn't mean he hasn't thought about it, though.

"I would be lying if I said it was completely out of my mind," Taylor said. "I try to not to. Maybe at night. Once the game starts, the day starts, I focus on what I'm doing that day. I'm getting ready for a season. I'm preparing to have a good year.

"I think anything could happen. I could be on this team, a different team; I could be outrighted, clear waivers; maybe traded in a Minor League deal. Nothing is off the table. That's another reason not to think about it. I have no control over it. The rest would just be driving myself crazy."

Chris Gabel is a contributor to
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