Where others might have seen rejection, Chris Taylor saw an opening when the door closed on his hope of starting the season with the Dodgers.
Despite being sent to Oklahoma City after his sizzling spring training, he recognized that going to triple-A would offer more time and less pressure as he refined his revamped swing, allowing him to turn his career around and become nearly indispensable during the Dodgers’ torrid first half.
Taylor was a catalyst in so many ways, hitting a franchise-record-tying three grand slams among his 10 home runs, stealing 11 bases, playing five positions and batting in each of the top eight spots in the batting order over 72 games. It’s difficult now to imagine the Dodgers without him.
His first walk-off hit Thursday against Arizona was the highlight of a seven-game hitting streak that ended just before the All-Star break, a surge that put his batting average at .285 — third among the regulars behind Justin Turner and Corey Seager — with 38 runs batted in and a .365 on-base percentage.
Recalled on April 19 after Logan Forsythe suffered a fractured big toe, Taylor has become a sparkplug, stepping in without hesitation to make 19 starts at second base, three at third base, two at shortstop, 20 in left field and 17 in center field.
“I used to just play middle infield and I know on this team we had a lot of really good infielders, so if I wanted to get more playing time I’d have to learn to play the corners and the outfield as well,” he said. “I’m just glad I got the opportunity.”
None of this might have happened had he taken the minor-league assignment as a setback. He showed maturity by choosing to use his time in Oklahoma City as an avenue to becoming a better hitter, a decision that continues to benefit him and the Dodgers.
“It might have been for the best, because when I went down to triple-A I struggled early and I think I needed to get a few more at-bats with my new swing,” Taylor said. “I needed to get through that struggle where I could learn to work through it.
“If I had started the year in the big leagues and I had struggled, I might not have gotten an opportunity later. Who knows? But I’m just glad things worked out the way they did.”
Chosen by Seattle in the fifth round of the 2012 June draft, Taylor batted only .240 in 86 games over three seasons with the Mariners. They dealt him to the Dodgers in June 2016 for right-hander Zach Lee.
“I kind of just needed a fresh start, and when I got traded to the Dodgers it was exciting to start over,” Taylor said.
But other than hitting his first career grand slam July 15 against Arizona and driving in six runs, he wasn’t particularly impressive, batting .207 in 34 games during two stints with the Dodgers.
Facing a moment of truth after last season, he concluded he had to change his swing. He began to work with Dodgers hitting consultant Robert Van Scoyoc in October in Arizona, and they clicked so well that Taylor spent another two weeks at Van Scoyoc’s hitting facility in Santa Clarita.
They worked on adding a leg-kick and adjusted Taylor’s hands, allowing him to get a better cut at fastballs. He’s also focusing on driving the ball instead of hitting it on the ground.
“Small changes can feel drastic in baseball,” Taylor said.
Sometimes they can change a career path. “You have to be 100% committed to make those swing changes, and that’s how it started,” said Taylor, who also sought advice from teammate Turner, who had made a similar change that involved a leg kick.
Taylor’s swing is still evolving and includes elements of his old swing, creating his own unique stroke. What matters is that he’s more confident at the plate.
“I still tinker with it. I make little adjustments,” he said. “I think that your swing — and I think most players will tell you this — is kind of always a work in progress. I don’t think anybody ever has it figured out.”
Taylor hasn’t figured out how he has become Mr. Clutch with the bases loaded this season. He’s four for five with 17 runs batted in, and his three grand slams padded his career total to four among his 11 career homers.
“The grand slams, I feel like they’re a coincidence. I don’t know what it is,” he said. “I credit my teammates. I’ve gotten up quite a few times with the bases loaded, so they’ve got to get on base in order for it to happen.
“I try to take the same approach I would any time there’s guys in scoring position: try not to do too much, and keep it simple. In those types of situations you just try and put the ball in play, hit something hard, and hopefully something good will happen.”
A lot of good things have happened for him so far, all because he kept an open mind when a door appeared to have closed.