By: Brian Frank
Fans watching Samad Taylor run the bases this season might be shocked to learn that when the Bisons speedster broke into professional baseball, he wasn’t much of a base stealer.
“If you look at the numbers coming up early in my career I did not run at all,” Taylor said in a recent interview with The Herd Chronicles. “I think my first year I had eight bags or something like that.”
Taylor, who currently leads the International League with twelve stolen bases, only stole six bases during his first season in professional baseball. He followed that up by stealing seven the following year.
“I was scared to get thrown out,” he explained. “Not being a hundred percent sure of what tendencies I’m looking at. It was the small things. I was never big on the small things.”
Samad Taylor currently leads the Herd in numerous offensive categories. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles.
“Then the older I got and the more I started to learn the game, I started to get bags,” he said. “I had a breakout year in stolen bases in 2018 in Lansing. That was just kind of me running to run. It was just me using my speed, but I didn’t really know how to steal bags. Then I got to New Hampshire and started doing certain things.”
Taylor raised his stolen base total to forty-four at Lansing in 2018, stole another twenty-six bases at Dunedin in 2019, and then stole thirty bases at Double-A New Hampshire last season.
“I feel like stealing bags is my thing,” he said. “Being a student of the game when it comes to stealing bags is the biggest thing for me.”
Taylor has become a serious student when it comes to learning the intricacies of stealing bases – and it’s shown in his results.
“We get times from the pitchers, sequencing, if the catcher’s lazy, if the catcher throws from his knees, if he sets up one way on his knees,” he said. “The biggest thing is just trusting yourself and trusting what you think. Don’t ever second guess it. If you second guess, then you might as well shut it down - that’s the big thing.”
On April 30, Taylor pulled off a rare feat when he had a straight steal of home. He did it in the tenth inning of a game the Bisons were leading 8-6. It was the first time a Bisons player has had a straight steal of home in eight seasons.
“I got to third and (third base coach Devon White) was like – you can take home if you want,” Taylor recalled. “I was like – ahhh, I don’t know. He took the first pitch – I didn’t do it. I was thinking in my head – if you don’t do this, you’re scared. So I thought, if (the catcher) goes back down to his knee, I’m going to break loose. He went back down to his knee and I took off.”
It was the first time Taylor has stolen home in a minor-league game.
“I did it in an intrasquad game in rookie ball, but I don’t really count that,” he said. “Last time I did something like that was in high school.”
Taylor grew up in Corona, California, idolizing players who used their speed and played with some style.
“Growing up I was a big Chone Figgins and Jose Reyes fan,” he said. “They’re both speed guys, kind of the same kind of player I am – will get you a couple home runs, but they’re going to steal a lot of bags and play great defense. In the game now, I like to watch Tim Anderson. He just plays with a bunch of flair, plays with a bunch of joy. I feel like that’s what I do. I’m a fun guy to be around. I just go out there and have fun.”
Taylor was drafted by Cleveland in the tenth round of the 2016 June amateur draft. Just over a year later, he was traded to the Blue Jays at the trade deadline along with starting pitcher Thomas Pannone for reliever Joe Smith. Taylor, only nineteen-years-old at the time, was shocked at being traded to a new organization at such a young age.
“It took me every bit of two weeks to take a full grasp of everything that was going on,” he remembered.
He moved up through the Blue Jays system, playing at Bluefield, Lansing, Vancouver, and Dunedin, but couldn’t quite get the results on the field to equal his talent level. In 2019 at High-A Dunedin, he hit just .216/.326/.364 with seven home runs. The following season, COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the minor-league season. Taylor ended up going to Australia to play for the Canberra Cavalry in the Australian Baseball League to work on his game.
“Due to the lockdown that we had going on we weren’t able to get to complexes and stuff like that. That was an opportunity that they presented to me and I needed at-bats. I went down there to work on some things with my swing and then I came back in 2021 and had a pretty good year.”
A pretty good year is an understatement. Taylor had a breakout season at Double-A New Hampshire. In eighty-seven games with the Fisher Cats, Taylor slashed .294/.385/.503 hit sixteen home runs and stole thirty bases.
“I credit the mental side of the game,” Taylor said of his newfound success. “I’m still hard on myself – but I was super hard on myself coming up. I thought last year was the best I’ve taken the mental side of the game. Just with the ups and downs during the season and the struggles throughout the year. What are you doing to do to level the mental side out? I felt like that was the biggest thing. On the mechanical side – just slowing the game down and understanding the type of player I am was the biggest thing.”
Taylor credits getting older and stronger, as well as adjustments he’s made to his swing for his increased power numbers.
“From the swing side of it, just simplifying certain things and not trying to make a bunch of jurasic movements,” he explained. “Once I simplified things down it was see ball, hit ball. That was pretty much the big plus on the swing side of it.”
Taylor entered this season rated by MLB Pipeline as the Blue Jays’ number sixteen prospect. He’s off to a terrific start for the Herd. Not only is he leading the league in stolen bases (twelve), but he’s also currently leading the team in home runs (five), RBI (twenty-one), runs scored (twenty-three), and walks (fifteen).
Taylor has played second base and left field for the Herd. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles.
“He has a really great awareness on the bases with the stealing part of it,” Bisons manager Casey Candaele said recently. “That’s something that’s hard to teach. Some guys just have it. And if you have it, it’s pretty special. He’s pretty adept at understanding when he can run and when good opportunities are to run.”
“He’s playing great defense, playing a couple different positions,” Candaele continued. “He has some pop in his bat. He has a lot of tools.”
Last weekend, Taylor showed that he has power to all fields when he hit opposite field home runs in back-to-back games against the Durham Bulls at Sahlen Field.
“He hits the ball to right field hard,” Candaele said. “It’s good to be able to do that and know that you can do that so you’re not trying to go pull-side all the time to hit the ball hard. He’s got that ability.”
Bisons fans have also grown accustomed to seeing Taylor make great defensive plays in both the infield and outfield.
“Coming up through high school, freshman, sophomore year I really didn’t play infield much,” Taylor said. “My junior year I played shortstop. My senior year I played shortstop all summer. Then I was drafted at shortstop. I didn’t play my first career inning at shortstop until I got over to the Blue Jays.”
“Everybody knows that watches baseball that the Blue Jays have a bunch of young guys and we have a bunch of versatile guys. Me putting myself in the outfield and opening up another door – I feel like it’s going to help my opportunities.”
The youngster has also found a new teammate to learn from this season. He met Bisons outfielder Mallex Smith in spring training. Smith has already been to the major leagues, playing for Atlanta, Tampa Bay, and Seattle. Speed is also a big part of Smith’s game. He led the American League with 46 stolen bases in 2019.
Taylor answered without hesitation when asked if he had any mentors in the game.
“Mallex Smith,” he said. “One hundred percent. Coming into spring training he kind of took me under his wing and just wanted to show me a lot about the game that you don’t know as a young guy. That’s the biggest thing – keeping your ears open, because there’s always room for improvement. There’s always room for new things. Whatever he says, we talk about it and if I don’t like it I tell him that I don’t know about it. If I like it, I take it and put it in my game. He’s done and is still doing what I want to do. I want to get to where he was at – in the big leagues. He obviously has done something good enough to get an opportunity to be in the big leagues, so I’m going to take everything I can from him while he’s here.“
Smith recently raved about Taylor’s ability, noting his adeptness as a baserunner, but also emphasizing the fact that he’s a complete player.
“Really he’s the all-around package,” Smith said. “Head’s on right. Wants to be great. Studies the game. A smart kid who plays hard. It’s easy to come in and want to help that guy.”
“He can swing the bat, run the bases, get on base for a high average,” he continued. “Plays all positions well and has the willingness to want to get better and improve himself. He’s a pretty complete package. He’s just an easy guy to have around.”
Bisons fans agree. Samad Taylor is a great guy to have around.