LOS ANGELES -- To find the "catalyst" or "spark plug" in the Dodgers' lineup, look no further than to Chris Taylor, the leadoff man who has been a key cog during the club's historic season.Taylor, a former fifth-round pick by the Mariners in 2012, has gone from batting .207 in
LOS ANGELES -- To find the "catalyst" or "spark plug" in the Dodgers' lineup, look no further than to Chris Taylor, the leadoff man who has been a key cog during the club's historic season.
Taylor, a former fifth-round pick by the Mariners in 2012, has gone from batting .207 in '16 for the Dodgers to mashing 17 homers and posting a .303/.374/.540 slash line, forcing manager Dave Roberts to keep him in the lineup. Like Cody Bellinger, Taylor started the season in the Minors, but after John Forsythe fractured his big toe, Taylor was recalled on April 19, and a chance to test out his opportunity came. Taylor filled in for Forsythe at second, and he hit two homers while tallying five RBIs in 10 games in April.
Taylor worked with Dodgers hitting consultant Robert Van Scoyoc in the offseason to add a leg kick, and he made adjustments with his hands. Thus the transformation from fringe Major League player in the Mariners' organization to the leadoff man on the best team baseball began.
Immediately, Taylor started to see more balls jumping off the bat with his new-look stroke, and once he was able to get his timing down, he was ready to test it out.
"It's a little scary," said Justin Turner about changing a swing. "I think you come to a point where you're looking around [and] you're seeing guys driving balls all over the yard and they're going out, you kind of wonder what's going on and how come that's not happening to you."
Where Taylor's swing has helped him the most is hitting fastballs, as he has a .328 average with five homers and 12 doubles when making contact with heaters. Taylor has 92 batted balls 95 mph or higher, fifth most on the team, trailing Corey Seager, Bellinger, Turner and Yasiel Puig, according to Statcast™.
"He's able to time off the fastball and the offspeed and kind of maintain that position," said hitting coach Turner Ward. "He has a great idea what he wants to do at the plate -- that doesn't get talked about enough. He has a really solid approach. He's able to do things that young hitters are able to do. You kind of put all those things together and it helps create a good hitter."
Taylor's versatility has also served the Dodgers well. He has played most of his life in the infield, but he was moved to outfield to keep him the lineup and fill in with injury issues. The bulk of the 101 games Taylor has played have been spent in left field (48 games). But that could change soon with the return of first baseman Adrian Gonzalez looming, as Taylor could be shifted back to the infield to play at second base, with Bellinger moving to left field.
Taylor said he's been consistently taking grounders just in case he's moved back to the infield at any moment. But for now, he's just enjoying this season.
"I always had confidence in myself as a player," Taylor said. "I just got in the right opportunity, the right organization and things worked out for me."
Joshua Thornton is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles.