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The View From Behind the Backstop: Blake Taylor

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The centerpiece of the Ike Davis deal has had an uneven campaign since donning a Mets uniform, but is there perhaps a breakout on the horizon for the young southpaw?

Bryan Green

Blake Taylor

LHP, Kingsport Mets (R)

Height, weight: 6'3", 220
Age (2014 season age): 18
Acquired: Trade, 2014 (Pirates for Ike Davis)

Date(s) seen: vs. Bristol Pirates, 8/15/14: 4.1 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 1 HR
2014:

GCL: 3 G, 10.2 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 7 BB, 10 K

R: 6 G, 30.1 IP, 41 H, 21 R, 18 ER, 23 BB, 20 K, 1 HR

The short of it

I often remind you not to scout the stats, but with Taylor you really shouldn't scout the stats. It's going to be a bit of a project, but the reward here could be a solid, left-handed, mid-rotation arm.

The long of it

It's easy to look at Taylor's 2014 line and give him a pass for being an eighteen-year-old that had to switch organizations in the middle of the season. It's not as easy to give him a pass when you actually watch the stuff live, but even here, context is imperative. It wasn't just that Taylor switched organizations mid-stream; it's also that he came from an organization with a very different philosophy with regards to developing pitchers. I asked pitching coach Jonathan Hurst about Taylor's 2014, and this is what he told me:

"With Blake it's kind of interesting, because he's coming out of a program that's different from ours of course, and it's getting him to be on our philosophy that's the hardest transition. It's just a struggle to get him on a program that he can trust... the curveball has been a struggle for him. I know when he was over there [with the Pirates], he didn't have a curveball. It was taken away from him. Now we are trying to get him back to finding a curveball that suits him and is comfortable for him...it's going to take some time, especially for a new guy, but it's a process and he's still young."

I expect Taylor to look like a very different pitcher in 2015 after time in the Instructional League, and a full Spring with the Mets player development staff, but here's what I saw in Kingsport:

Taylor certainly looks the part of a major league starter. It's a big, athletic frame, and the delivery is pretty easy, featuring a high leg kick and good momentum towards the plate. The main issue (and one Hurst mentioned in our interview) is that he can really get the front side moving too fast, leaving his arm to play catch-up. This lead to Taylor struggling to finish his delivery and stay on top of his stuff. Early in his start he threw a lot of what I think were cutters. The pitch was 84-85 with a short, late break. I don't know if the Pirates taught him a cutter, or tried to give him a slider and this is what he ended up with, but it needs to be scrapped. The fastball was 87-89, touched 90. When he was in-sync and got some extension out of the delivery, the fastball showed some decent plane from his almost over-the-top release point, but Taylor struggled to find the zone with it, which might speak to why he threw the cutter so much early. He could sort of guide that over the plate, but it was easy to square.

The curveball is intriguing. It's a mid-70s offering, that can be loopy at times especially when Taylor was struggling with his release point. When the release point was shallow, the pitch showed early and just sort of dropped into the zone. Later on in the start he started getting over it better, and it was a swing-and-miss offering with plus potential. Keeping in mind that he has just started throwing it again, it's clearly the best pitch he has. He didn't throw it as much as the change-up, which is another organizational directive at this level. The change was 82-84 and firm, but he showed some feel for it as the start went on. One thing to note is that Taylor is very slow to the plate out of the stretch (1.7-1.8), and even at this level Bristol could take advantage.

So Taylor is not an easy arm to evaluate. It's not just a matter of projecting grade jumps for pitches, which you can certainly do here as well. The Mets have a very different developmental approach than the Pirates, and Taylor really hasn't had any experience in the system. I suppose the easiest way to handle this is to evaluate Taylor as if he were a high school senior the Mets had just drafted (and seeing as he spent most of the season as an eighteen-year-old, that's reasonable). The velocity is certainly down from when he was drafted, but I think he can sit more consistently around 90 if he scraps the slutter and is able to improve the timing in his delivery. That'll play from the left side. Add in a potential plus curve and some feel for the change, and results and complicated profile aside, that's a nice little pitching prospect.

The optimistic projection

Taylor reminds me a bit of a left-handed Robert Gsellman. There might be a bit more upside here given his age and the potential of the curveball, but like Gsellman, you are probably looking at a 3/4 starter through the rose-colored glasses

The pessimistic projection

There is also a bit more risk than Gsellman. As I wrote above, I expect Taylor to get an overhaul in instructs. I think that will help, but I also don't entirely know what that will look like. With what I saw in Kingsport, he could end up topping out in Double-A, or becoming more of a fastball/curve LOOGy type.

What to look for in 2015

I expect the Mets will take their time with Taylor in extended Spring before sending him to Brooklyn, where he will still be young for the league. I will be looking for how the shape of his stuff changes, and how much the breaking ball and command/control improve.

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