Former Blue Jay prospect Samad Taylor went under the radar when the Royals traded for him along with Max Castillo in the Whit Merrifield deal at the August 3rd Trade Deadline.
After all, Taylor was not a heralded prospect in Toronto, as he was ranked as the 11th-best prospect in the Blue Jays system prior to the start of the 2022 season, according to Baseball America. Furthermore, he didn’t play at all in the Royals system due to an oblique injury, which has just recovered from recently.
Despite missing most of the second half of the 2022 season, Taylor has gotten an opportunity to play with the Surprise Saguaros in the Arizona Fall League this year, and he has made the most of his limited opportunity.
He didn’t go to Arizona with the most buzz (that belonged to Tyler Gentry) and he hasn’t been the Royals’ best offensive performer either (John Rave has been more productive at the plate). That being said, Taylor has demonstrated a multi-tool skill set that makes him an intriguing and prototypical “Royals Way” prospect.
In his first stint in the Arizona Fall League, Taylor has flashed some impressive speed, power, and glovework for a possible utility player who can play multiple infield and outfield positions. But like most Royals position prospects, he has struggled with strikeouts this fall, as he has struck out 13 times in 43 plate appearances with the Saguaros.
And hence, Royals fans are probably wondering, especially with the 40-man roster deadline looming:
Will Royals general manager JJ Picollo deem Taylor worth protecting from the Rule 5 Draft this winter?
Or will Taylor be another player who was traded for last year that is out of the Royals organization in less than a year, much like relievers Albert Abreu and Luke Weaver? (Weaver was just released earlier this week (along with Ryan Weiss and Tyler Zuber) to clear some space on the 40-man roster.)
It still may be a long shot for Taylor to make the Royals’ 40-man roster, especially considering the depth of infielders in the Royals system (and even infielders who could play outfield).
But Taylor is making his case that he could deserve a place in this Royals organization in 2023, even if it may be in a limited role.
A 10th-round pick by Cleveland in 2016, Taylor has pretty much been an infielder for most of his professional career.
Prior to the 2021 season, he was primarily a second baseman, and it has only been over the past two seasons that Taylor has seen some time in the outfield. Even with the move to the outfield, he only played in 47 games over the past two seasons in left field and eight games in center field in 2022. So it’s not like he has a ton of work or experience as a multi-position player from his time in the Blue Jays system.
Taylor though has an athletic toolset, even though he is not overly big at 5’10 and 160 pounds. Despite struggling with injury post-COVID, he has demonstrated effective speed on the basepaths. He stole 23 bases on 28 attempts in Triple-A Buffalo last year, and in Double-A New Hampshire in 2021, he stole 30 bases in 38 attempts.
At the very least, Taylor’s speed would fit right in on this Royals roster.
But he’s not solely just a “speed and defense” guy like former fringe prospects in the Royals system (Lucius Fox comes to mind). Taylor hit 16 home runs in 87 games in Double-A in 2021, and nine home runs in 70 games in 2022 with Buffalo. If he was fully healthy both seasons, it’s not out of the question to think that he could’ve been a 20-20 player, which would have boosted his prospect stock in Toronto.
After all, he had some hot stretches in Buffalo last year, and while his .258 average wasn’t impressive, he still posted a .337 wOBA and 101 wRC+. That wasn’t bad for his first experience at Triple-A. In addition, his swing could “wow” scouts and fans, and he was able to put impressive games with the Bisons, like this two home-run outing below:
In AFL play, Taylor isn’t hitting for a high average, as he is only hitting .182 in 12 games with Surprise. He has hit two home runs though, including this one he hit on October 25th against the Desert Dogs.
So far, Taylor is not only posting a .641 OPS, which is more palatable, but he has also collected eight RBI and seven stolen bases on seven attempts. After a slow start in Arizona, the 24-year-old infielder is showing that he is finally healthy and could be due for a big season in 2023. And this is not just at the Minor League level, but perhaps in the Major Leagues as well, should he be given the opportunity.
In fact, Taylor’s surge lately in the Arizona Fall League may remind some Royals fans of Nate Eaton, who was kind of a fringe prospect in the Royals system in 2021 before breaking out that fall in Surprise. Eaton parlayed that AFL success into a breakout Minor League campaign which led to an eventual call-up and successful rookie campaign with the Royals in 2022.
Eaton and Taylor have similar profiles when comparing them on Fangraphs. Eaton struck out a little bit less in the Minors than Taylor, but Taylor walked more and showed a lot more stolen base ability than Eaton at the Minor League level.
In fact, in 2019, Taylor stole 44 bases in low-A Lansing. As for Eaton, the most stolen bases he had in a season was 23 in High-A Quad Cities in 2021. Considering Eaton stole 11 bases on 12 attempts in his rookie year, it’s possible that Taylor could produce a similar, if not better output on the stolen base end in 2023, should he get an opportunity in the Show.
Eaton may be a “best case” scenario outlook for Taylor in 2023, should the Royals decide to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft or if he simply goes undrafted, which is possible (Eaton was eligible too and while the Rule 5 draft didn’t happen, it wasn’t likely that he would have gotten selected).
On the other hand, his swing may remind some baseball fans of former Brewers’ second baseman Rickie Weeks Jr., who demonstrated surprising pop despite a small stature.
Here’s a look at Taylor’s second AFL home run which came on October 22nd:
And here’s a look at a patented Weeks home run during his playing days in Milwaukee:
Do I think Taylor can be another Weeks-esque player?
Probably not, especially considering how injury issues affected him the past two years, and COVID canceled the Minor League season in 2020. At 24 years old, Taylor is a bit behind in where he was expected to be, and he was drafted as a prospect who needed a lot of development in the first place.
Taylor may not be an everyday player at the Major League level. However, he is not another Fox or Jeison Guzman, who both failed to hit enough to stay on a 40-man roster. There is some surprising pop there with Taylor, and work with Drew Saylor and the Royals Professional Development Team in Spring Training and during the regular season could help him tap more into his potential, much like Drew Waters this past season, who thrived in the Royals system after coming over from Atlanta.
Obviously, Waters is a much better and more high-end prospect than Taylor. Nonetheless, Saylor and his team have done a good job of getting the most hitting-wise from position prospects and Taylor could be another success story in 2023, especially if he can have a fully healthy season in Triple-A Omaha.
JJ Picollo may roll the dice and leave Taylor unprotected in the December draft, with the hope they can maybe add him to the 40-man and active roster when a need comes up in the middle of the season, which happened with Eaton. The Royals still have a glut of infielders with Michael Massey, Nicky Lopez, Adalberto Mondesi, Maikel Garcia, and Bobby Witt, Jr. all on the 40-man and vying for spots at the Major League level this Spring. That being said, come July or August, it’s likely that a couple of those guys will be gone, which could open the door for Taylor to get some opportunities (and perhaps in the outfield as well if Hunter Dozier and Kyle Isbel don’t show improvement).
But in my opinion, the Royals shouldn’t mess around and risk losing Taylor in the draft and see him be another Victor Reyes or Akil Baddoo for another squad.
Add him to the 40-man, and let him get some offensive and defensive work (including more outfield time) in Omaha for the first three to four months of the year…
And see if he can come on and show versatility, speed, and surprising pop in a utility role off the bench, much like Eaton did last season.
Photo Credit: Blue Jays Nation