Taylor makes debut with Triple A Lehigh Valley

Posted: July 17, 2009

ALLENTOWN - When Michael Taylor turned around, logical thought would have been: Why are there no shoulder pads and helmet in his locker?

He's that big - Tony Gonzalez big. He actually is a little bigger than the future Hall of Fame tight end and even looks like him a little - a comparison he would probably resent, since Taylor's a Stanford man and Gonzalez went to Cal.

Taylor might be that big, but is he that good?

The Phillies took another step toward finding out yesterday, when they promoted the corner outfielder to Triple A Lehigh Valley. He started in leftfield and batted third, wearing last night's bizarre, tuxedo-top uniform (there was a pregame wedding in the ballpark).

Here, Taylor, a fifth-rounder in 2007 who is 23, will see sharper breaking balls, more finely painted fastballs, fewer mistakes. He'll see all sorts of pitches thrown in all counts, often from men who are desperate for another shot, maybe a final shot, at the majors.

"People will mix in even more offspeed stuff," said Taylor, softly and clearly. "I'll need to refine my plan at the plate."

The Phillies aren't worried.

"He has a plan when he goes up there . . . and he's got some ability," said Phillies assistant general manager Benny Looper. "He's got real good eye-hand coordination. He puts the ball in play."

Looper, along with top scout Charley Kerfeld, watched Taylor's Triple A debut last night. As predicted, they saw Taylor challenged by Rochester Red Wings righthander Jeff Manship.

Taylor, a righthanded hitter, popped out weakly, foul, in his first at-bat; struck out looking on three pitches in his second, the last a fastball that ran back over the outside corner; and, after falling behind, 0-2, walked on eight pitches in his third appearance. He scorched a 1-1 breaking ball to third base in his fourth at-bat against reliever Armando Gabino.

"I settled in a little bit," Taylor said. "I was a little tired. And I was a little amped up."

So, no hits for Taylor. But there was evidence of his promise.

"He's going to want to come in and show everybody what he can do," Lehigh Valley manager Dave Huppert said before the game.

After Taylor's walk, the 9,388 at Coca-Cola Park got to see what he could do on the basepaths.

Taylor easily scored from first on Terry Tiffee's subsequent double to right-centerfield. He scored standing up. There was no relay. It was a breathtaking sprint for such a large man.

"I can move, once I get going," Taylor allowed, smiling.

This is some of what the excitement is about.

At Double A Reading, Taylor had done all he could do.

He found out about his inevitable promotion around noon yesterday, a phone call received on a bus back from the Eastern League All-Star Game in Trenton.

He was leading the league with 106 hits and was third with a .333 average and a .569 slugging percentage. His 15 homers and 65 RBI ranked third; his 41 extra-base hits and 59 runs, second; his 18 stolen bases, fifth.

That's 18 steals for a guy listed at 6-6, 260 pounds, with a fine arm, as well.

"He's overmatched that league," Looper said.

"He was ready," Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said from Florida, where the big-league team resumed its season last night.

Looper allowed that the organization considered waiting to promote Taylor until top prospect Dominic Brown, 21, also an outfielder, was ready for promotion from high-Class A Clearwater to Reading. But Brown broke a finger in June and missed a month. He resumed play yesterday for the Rookie League Gulf Coast Phillies, but he won't be ready for any promotion any time soon.

How soon could Taylor - rated just behind Brown by Baseball America - be ready for a Philadelphia debut? By the end of the season?

"A lot of it depends on how he makes the adjustment," Amaro said.

Amaro yesterday said Taylor's availability has often been brought up in trade talks - "He's been pretty popular" - but Amaro has been unwilling to part with a fellow Cardinal.

Unwilling, the way the Phillies were unwilling to part with their last giant prospect, Ryan Howard.

Taylor hasn't shown Howard's power, but Howard never displayed Taylor's athleticism - Taylor's 260 is more classically, and economically, proportioned - nor did he display Taylor's discipline.

Howard hit 111 homers in 507 minor league games; Taylor, 40 in 284 entering last night. Then again, Howard struck out 1.2 times per minor league game; Taylor, 0.7.

There is talk in the organization that Taylor might sacrifice some points for power. He is not, now.

He put it in play against Double A pitching. He did it against Class A pitching, too, hitting a combined .346 with 19 homers and 88 RBI at Lakewood and Clearwater. Now, he gets to see if what worked in college and afterward will work one step away from the big leagues - a step he was delighted, if not impatient, to take.

"I would have been fine staying in Reading all year," Taylor said.

Instead, he returned to Reading, crammed his belongings into his car, buzzed to the ballpark, picked up his gear . . . and called his parents. And gave them directions.

They were heading up from Florida to Reading to see him play. They had to scoot a little farther up Route 222, right behind their son.

"It was an easy ride," Taylor said.

Daily News sports writer David Murphy contributed to this report.

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