On Sunday it was announced that the Mets had acquired Blake Taylor from the Pittsburgh Pirates as the Player to Be Named Later in the Ike Davis deal. To help get Mets fans up to speed on who Taylor is and what his skillset looks like, I thought I’d share some thoughts on him since he’s only one year removed from the amateur draft.
The Pirates drafted Taylor in the second round of last year’s draft out of a high school in California, and he’s exactly the sort of pitcher I’d never expect Tommy Tanous and Paul DePodesta to draft. The Mets like athletic strike-throwers on the mound, guys who have sound mechanics, repeat them well, and pound the strike zone. Taylor is not that. He’s only vaguely acquainted with the strike zone right now, and the Mets are hoping that coaching will lead to a greater familiarity.
Taylor’s had some inconsistent velocity over the years, something that can really scare teams away out of fears over an injury. He’s been clocked as high as 94, but I also had some reports on him in the 83-87 range, velocity that’s not going to fly at any professional level. Most often Taylor’s been seen throwing 88-91, which is more or less average velocity for a southpaw, maybe a half-tick below. If he can add velocity one way or another, it’s possible to see him consistently in the 91-93 range perhaps. Is that likely to happen? Well, he has a very physically mature body already at 6 feet, 3 inches and 210 pounds, so I’m questioning how much muscle he has room to add. So if he does add velocity, I think it will have to be through his mechanics.
There are four ways to add velocity, generally speaking. One is to increase the length of the pitcher’s stride. The second is to find a way for the pitcher to generate more torque via their torso and hips. The third is to improve the pitcher’s timing so that the first two methods are used to their optimal effect. And the fourth is to get the pitcher to generate as much power in their arms as they possibly can, usually by stretching out all their ligaments to the max. The last is very rarely recommended, as it probably increases the damage the ligaments in the shoulder suffer during delivery. Taylor already takes a fairly long, healthy stride toward the plate, so that’s out. He also has pretty good torso rotation during delivery, typically staying closed until the last possible moment. And as for the last, he already vertically loads his scapula, which is putting stress on his shoulder.
This leaves only a question of timing. Is there some way that Taylor’s delivery is inefficient, wasting energy and momentum toward the plate that is costing him miles-per-hour on a radar gun? Possibly. As I mentioned, Taylor has a vertical scapula load, which requires more length and more time to work through. By shortening his arm action, his arm might end up more in sync with the rest of his delivery. That could add velocity, even as it subtracts it by having his arm do less work.
Another major question mark hovering over Taylor is his command and control. Both are well below average for me, and I’m not sure about their future prospects. His fastball has life to it, with some serious arm-side run and some sink generated by his overhand arm slot, so it’s not terribly surprising that he’s had difficulty commanding it. Generally speaking, he does need to learn what his pitches do and how to adjust his body appropriately to get desired effects. He’ll either learn that or he won’t. Otherwise, fixing the above-referenced timing issue could improve his delivery’s repeatability. I’m not sure I see anything else terribly obvious about his mechanics.
Finally there’s his offspeed stuff. Taylor throws a curve and a slider, and I’m more impressed with the breaking ball, which is hardly unusual for a high school arm. The curve has tight spin and drop to it, and if he could throw it harder and command it better, I’d grade it a plus pitch. I don’t believe I’ve seen his changeup, but the last anyone saw it, it was in its rudimentary stages. I don’t see any reason why he couldn’t develop one, especially with his high arm angle.
Taylor projects as a number three starter if he is able to maintain decent velocity and develops enough command to move through the minors while simultaneously avoiding injury. If he doesn’t, he might have a fallback as a lefty out of the bullpen.