TORONTO -- Samad Taylor is learning to play his game.
In his fourth season of professional baseball, the 21-year-old infielder has learned that the same game he has known for the majority of his life can become different, if he lets it.
Though he’s doing a better job of not allowing the game to get away from him this year with the Class A Advanced Dunedin Blue Jays, it’s been a work in progress for Toronto’s No. 27 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.
“The game speeds up on you,” Taylor said. “Starting in Rookie ball, coming out of high school it wasn’t that big of a jump because you’re playing against the younger guys in pro ball. When I was moving up, the game started getting faster and faster. Guys would come from college, guys were playing a quicker game in a way.
“In moving up from Short-Season to Low A, same thing -- guys were getting better, pitchers are better, catchers are better, all around guys are just better. Then to High A, I started the season off a little slow and slowly started to pick it up. But the biggest thing in the game when you move up is the game moves faster.”
In 89 games with Dunedin this season, Taylor has slashed .221/.338/.369 with six home runs, 17 doubles, two triples, 24 stolen bases, 42 runs scored and 29 driven in. With an impressive set of skills and a plethora of upside, the young infielder believes he spent at least part of his season trying to do a little too much, and he has been making improvements by returning to what got him where he is in the first place.
“I’ve tried new things. I’ve done the whole nine, and I’ve told myself I have to go back to what worked for me before,” Taylor said. “It was hard to go back to it, because I haven’t had that feeling in however long. But I tried a bunch of things at one time and it’s hard to make drastic adjustments day by day like that. On the hitting side, I had to slow everything down, go back to what felt normal.”
The 10th-round pick of the Indians in the 2016 MLB Draft -- who was traded to the Blue Jays one season later along with Thomas Pannone in exchange for reliever Joe Smith -- Taylor has always known that his most impressive tools are his speed and defense, with an ability to hit for average, but there have been times when the California native has strayed from focusing on what he does best.
“Be yourself every day,” Taylor said of what he’s learned. “Don’t come out and try to be somebody you’re not or try to do something that isn’t in your ballgame. Don’t come out and try to hit 40 home runs, that’s just not possible, rather than come out and play your game, the small ball game. Do all the things that your tools provide you to do.”
Taylor’s tools have made him a defender with good range, quick feet and above-average arm strength, according to MLB Pipeline. His 44 stolen bases ranked third in the Midwest League last year, and he has swiped 81 bags in 294 career games.
“Defence is something you always have to work on,” Taylor said. “You can never be too good defencively. There are always going to be things that have to be better. On the speed side, I grew up slow. I wasn’t always fast. But naturally it started to come along from work and time, so that was something that caught up to me. Once it caught up to me, I took over and took off with it.”
As he’s become more aware of what helped him earn his place in pro ball, and what will allow him to stay, Taylor also understands where the most work needs to be done.
“I’m [working] on the mental side, just slowing everything down, going into the box calm,” he said. “Not going in to pressure, knowing the situation before I get into the box. Thinking about what [the pitcher] had done before, thinking about what he’d done to hitters who are similar to me. Knowing the situation before it happens has helped me out a lot and slowing everything down.
“I need to work on just being consistent at the plate. That’s my biggest downfall right now, is being a consistent hitter and not jumping out of my zone and chasing everything. I need to just stick with my approach and stick with what I’m good at.”