We’ve reached the No. 2 spot in our countdown of the top prospects in the Brewers system as voted on by the Brew Crew Ball community last winter, and no other slot on this list better illustrates the massive growth of Milwaukee’s farm system. Tyrone Taylor entered the season as a consensus top-five prospect in the organization and the heir apparent in center field to Carlos Gomez. But with a big influx of talent and some breakout years, Taylor went out of style a bit, and he ended the season as just the second best center field prospect on his team.
Acquired in the second round of the 2012 draft, Taylor swiftly rose up the Brewers’ prospect rankings with a monster showing with the Brewers rookie-level leagues: Taylor hit .387/.434./.667 with two home runs and six steals over 18 games (83 PA) while splitting time between the AZL Brewers and Helena. The Brewers have been aggressive with Taylor’s placement throughout his career, and he’s been about a year young at every level. After getting the nod as the Brewers' A-ball exception in the Arizona Fall League to end the 2014 season, he spent 2015 as a 21-year-old with AA-Biloxi.
Taylor did not have a great year at the plate in 2015, and he was among the very few Shuckers who did not exceed expectations. He hit .260/.312/.337 with a disappointing 84 wRC+, his first season with a below league average rate. However, Taylor was going through a major overhaul of his batting stance this season, which almost certainly accounts for his depressed numbers:
Looks like Tyrone Taylor is going through a pretty significant change in his swing/stance in Double-A. Probably explains the slow start— Alex Tomter (@AlexTomter) May 20, 2015
Taylor has good speed but stole just 10 bases in 16 attempts this season (he has a 71.6% success rate for his career). He got a ton of work with the Shuckers, finishing third on the team in both games played and plate appearances. However, he was generally relegated to the bottom half of the order as his hitting lagged – Taylor’s .649 OPS was the third worst on the team among players with at least 300 plate appearances, outpacing only minor-league lifer Taylor Green and organizational filler Nick Shaw, who spent his third full season with the Brewers Double-A club and will only see the big leagues in his wildest dreams. Taylor spent most of his time in center field early, but likely knew he was in trouble when Brett Phillips walked in after the deadline deal with the Astros, and he spent much of the remainder of the year in left.
As a contact hitter without a ton of raw power but plus speed, Taylor has the tools of the prototypical top-of-the-order hitter. He doesn’t strike out much at all (10.9 K% in 2015, and an 11.0% rate for his career), which would be a welcome change for Brewers fans, who have some bad blood with high strike out guys at the top of the lineup; Gomez, for all his positives, owns a career 22.5 K%, which is not ideal for your table-setter (though Gomez was as likely as not to clear the table himself). If he wants to stick as a leadoff hitter, however, Taylor will need to learn to start taking more pitches and getting on base more. His excellent plate coverage and discipline has kept those strike out numbers low, but a low walk rate (6.7% for his career) has kept his on base percentage lower than you’d like (a career .333 OBP).
Taylor, like Phillips, has the speed to stick in center field, but also like Phillips, some scouts think he might be better suited to the corner, which could leave Milwaukee still facing a blank space up the middle. If he does find himself pushed out of center, he’ll find the way blocked at a position where the Brewers are already fully stocked both at the major league level for the foreseeable future with Ryan Braun (signed through 2020), Khris Davis (under team control through 2019) and Domingo Santana (under team control through 2020). Of course, the next year or so is almost certain to bring about wholesale changes as the Brewers continue their rebuilding process, and GM David Stearns has already traded Santana away once.
Taylor’s down season doesn’t necessarily mean he’s no longer a top-10 prospect in the Brewers system, though given the stark improvement of the organization I don’t think I’d rank him there anymore. I don’t know about you but at just 22 entering the 2016, I’m feeling like Taylor still has time to bring along his hit tool, especially if the changes he made to his batting stance stick. Taylor’s peripheral numbers continue to look good, especially if he can bring that walk rate up, so even if he’s never, ever, ever able to put it all together, he still has a floor as a dynamic fourth outfielder or low-end starter. It’ll be interesting to see where Taylor winds up in 2016: with Brett Phillips likely ticketed for the center field gig at AAA-Colorado Springs, the Brewers may call off their aggressive approach with Taylor and let him shake off his poor 2015 with another year in Biloxi.