Phillies Draft Retrospective: Reggie Taylor
Ask an MLB Draft pundit who they think the Phillies are likely to draft in the first round and almost always they’ll tell you to pick an athlete, any athlete. It’s been the organization’s modus operandi for as long as most of us can remember and it’s produced mixed results. Selecting the intriguing athlete has given the Phillies the likes of Jimmy Rollins, Kyle Kendrick and Michael Bourn as well as the dislikes of Greg Golson, Tim Moss and Anthony Hewitt. Perhaps no more fitting example of the volatile nature of this tendency lies in the specter of Reggie Taylor, the 1995 draft’s 14th overall selection.
As a senior at Newberry High School in South Carolina, a wispy, 6’1”, 165lb Taylor was drawing first round heat but eliciting inconsistent projections from scouts on what seems to, time and time again, be the deciding factor in whether these picks go boom or bust: the hit tool. Let’s take a look at some amateur reports that Chicago White Sox scouts filed on Taylor before the ’95 draft, paying specific attention to how varied the projections were on his bat. All of the following reports are courtesy of the Diamond Mines scouting database.
Taylor’s present hit tool grades range from 20-30, with projections in the 45-60 range. Even if we ignore the extreme gap between those present and future grades (which, when examining this case study as a whole, we should not because a 4 grade gap in projection is massive and notable) and just focus on the scout-to-scout delta in Taylor hit projection, the range is eye-opening. A 45 (or “fringe-average”) hit tool projection means the scout expected Taylor to hit .260-.270 at his peak. The 60 (or “plus”) projection predicts Taylor will stroke it at a .285-.300 clip.
The same severe contrast appears in Taylor’s power projection, which ranged from 35 to 50. A good portion of this number likely hinged on whether or not the scout thought Taylor would add mass to his frame. Combining the hit tool and power tool projections, here’s what each scout thought Taylor’s bat would turn into based just on AVG and HRs, keeping in mind that they all basically projected Taylor to stick in center field:
Mark Bernstein: .280, 11-17 HRs (55 hit, 40 power)
George Bradley: .260, 7-11 HRs (45 hit, 35 power)
Kevin Burrell: .290, 7-11 HRs (60 hit, 35 power)
Alex Cosmidis: .290, 17-25 HRs (60 hit, 50 power)
Doug Laumann: .270, 11-17 HRs (50 hit, 40 power)
There’s always going to be disagreement within a front office and scouting department and, in my opinion, it’s entirely healthy. Discord begets discourse which is necessary for a good talent acquisition squad. But the gap shown in the projections above a little more than I feel is typical and, with the benefit of hindsight surely impacting my opinion, it would have given me pause.
The Phillies, with then scouting director Mike Arbuckle at the helm, drafted Taylor 14th overall to start what was a pretty weak back-half of Round 1. Of the players selected 14-30, only Roy Halladay (17th) and Michael Barrett (28th) had notable Major League careers, though plenty of terrific players sent from Round 2 on. Upon his selection, the quotes coming out of the Phillies front office lend clues as to what the kind of player they projected him to be. Here’s what Arbuckle told Don Bostrom of The Morning Call, post-draft:
“In terms of style, we’re talking an Otis Nixon-type player with a little more power,” Mike Arbuckle, the Phillies scouting director, said. “This guy has a chance to hit some home runs.
“All-Star caliber at major league level if all comes together. He can be a five-tool player.”
“We feel he’s a pure center fielder and a real speed guy. He runs a 3.9 to first base and a 6.4 60-yard dash,” Arbuckle said. “We feel he’s a base stealer and a leadoff guy.”
While acknowledging the same developmental mountain the White Sox scouts knew Taylor would have to climb:
“That’s a factor to think about. It’s tough to judge a guy against kids that throw 70-72-75 miles an hour.
“We’ve been following him since February. We got him in some workout situations. We had a couple of guys throwing to him that had a little more zip on the ball, so we’ve seen him swing the bat against a little better pitching than he’s used to facing.”
And again here in his quotes to John Smallwood of The Daily News:
“Reggie Taylor probably wasn’t the safest pick at 14th overall in the nation,” said Arbuckle, who came to the Phillies from the highly successful Atlanta Braves player development system in October 1992, “but the ceiling on him is really high. If he makes it, he’s going to be a really special player. I’m going to take a chance on a guy like that because those are the type of guys who can help you win titles.
“I’ve never felt any pressure to set a timetable on getting players to the major leagues. The whole program has been, ‘Let’s get the guys you think are the best players available.’ The rest will take care of itself.”
Taylor signed for what was, at the time, a franchise record signing bonus of $970,000.
Taylor was raw, to be sure. He didn’t post an OPS over .700 in the minors until he was 22, his first full season at Reading after spending 80 games in Baseballtown the season before. And yet, the reports were solid. Here’s Taylor’s write up from the 2000 Baseball America Prospect Handbook, which came after Taylor’s most successful statistical season:
Taylor has made the top 10 six straight years since being drafted in the first round. A separated shoulder in the Venezuelan League nearly derailed his 2000 season, but to his credit he battled back to return by the end of May. He still had time to show off his five-tool potential and tie a career-high in home runs. Some scouts believe Taylor would be among the best defensive center fielders in the majors right now. He can close the gaps with impressive bursts of speed, while his powerful throwing arm cuts down runners with its strength and accuracy. He generates above-average pop with a quick bat and his wiry athletic strength. Considered a raw athlete six years ago, Taylor has yet to shed that label. His lack of concern for working counts is the key factor holding him back. A career .296 on-base percentage is a major concern, no matter how impressive his tools may be. Taylor is the most athletic player in the system, bar none, but the perennial top prospect is entering a pivotal season. He showed steady improvement in Venezuela this winter.
A pivotal season 2001 was, indeed. Taylor again scuffled and dropped to #30 in BA’s rankings, a clear indication that the Phillies had soured on him as BA’s rankings are often heavily sourced from the teams themselves. Taylor was traded to Cincinnati just before the start of the 2002 season for a PTBNL that eventually became Hector Mercado. He spent parts of five season in the Majors, accumulating about one full season’s worth of PAs (548) and posting a .231/.274/.381 line with a 29% career strikeout rate but a respectable 42 XBH and 21 steals. Even in failure, that explosion was there.
Taylor’s best season came in 2004 at age 27. Between Triple-A Louisville and Charlotte, he posted a .274/.333/.486 line in a 20/20 season. He got one more cup of coffee with the Devil Rays in 2005 before toiling away in the Independent and Mexican Leagues until 2010 when he called it a career.
What’s most fun about Taylor is that he went bust during Prospect Pre-history. Today, every high school kid with even a whiff of the draft has a highlight video on Youtube and a profile on Perfect Game’s website. Taylor’s career even predates the MLBtv archives so we can’t go back and even get a rudimentary look at why he was such a mess. Unless we really dig, we just have oral history, minor league beat writer clippings and statistics if we’re to glean anything from his career.