Blue Jays prospect Taylor Cole looking to continue recent strides
Taylor Cole warms up with the Lansing Lugnuts on May 5, 2013. Mandatory Credit: Jay Blue, Blue Jays From Away
Often times, the prize at the end of the race is what gets the attention of the media and fans, and that is especially true for minor league baseball players. The aspirations of reaching the Major Leagues is a seed that is planted early in our youth and grows throughout childhood and into adulthood. We often forget that the most important part of the race is the journey along the way, as it is the efforts and decisions made which define the type of man they’ll be once they cross the finish line.
For Toronto Blue Jays pitching prospect Taylor Cole, it has been an interesting journey that not many before him have taken.
Interestingly enough, when I caught up to Taylor Cole, he was on a different type of journey. A native of Las Vegas, Nevada, Taylor and his wife were making the trek from where the two attend school in Provo, Utah, a five-hour trip to return home for the Thanksgiving holiday. It seemed as good a time as any to pass the time and talk with us a bit about baseball, life, and music.
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Taylor’s professional baseball journey started in high school, and took him to two different colleges before he landed with the Toronto Blue Jays organization. Originally drafted in the 2007 draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers out of high school, Taylor opted not to sign with the Dodgers and instead went to college, a decision he admits was about improving his draft position.
"“The first time was all about signability, hoping to move up the draft ladder by going to college and put myself in a better position. Going to the College of Southern Nevada would allow me to continue to grow as a pitcher and hopefully improve when I re-entered the draft.”"
However, things changed a bit during that first year in school, and baseball took a back seat to something bigger. When Cole’s name was called again in the 2008 draft, this time by the Arizona Diamondbacks, he again chose not to sign but the decision came down to something much bigger for Taylor; religion. A member of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, chose to take a two-year break from baseball to pursue a mission for the Mormon church.
"“I realized that a mission was something I wanted to do, therefore the timing just wasn’t right. For me, I was willing to take the risk (of walking away from baseball for two years), but I knew if I put the Lord first and came back and still made it, it was the right path for me. However, I felt that if I didn’t do it I would be cheating myself. It was really cool to see my friends and former teammates getting the chance to reach their goals, and I knew my time would come.”"
When Taylor returned from his mission, there was a lot of work to be done. He came back 20 pounds lighter, something he attributes to the hard work and stress of the mission combined with the lack of athletic work during his time away. This time, he would head to Brigham Young University, where he would pitch one season for the Cougars. He would go 5-5 with a 2.99 ERA and 67 strike-outs in 93.1 innings of work in that lone season, a year he admits was just “okay” as he worked to build his strength and conditioning back up.
This time when the MLB draft came calling, specifically the Toronto Blue Jays, he knew the time was right to make the jump.
"“The last time, I felt like I had put in my time and joining the Blue Jays was a good way to get started and further my development.”"
The journey with the Toronto Blue Jays started for Taylor in the summer of 2011 for short-season Vancouver, and repeated the level again in 2012 as he worked his way back to full strength and got back into the routine of pitching and conditioning. He would see some steady gains in 2013 as he made the jump to Lansing and then to Dunedin before season’s end. A two year hiatus from the game can be a lot for a young player to make up for, but Cole knew he was in the right place to do it.
"“It all came down to time. No matter how hard I worked, it was all about repetition and time and rebuilding the foundation with strength. That seemed to finally come back to me this past year.”"
And come together in 2014 it certainly did.
Taylor Cole came into the 2014 season a different player. Starting the year back at High-A Dunedin, Taylor took advantage of his finally regained strength and found the pitcher again. Offseason work proved to be a boon as the results showed with a 8-11 mark over 26 appearances (25 starts), with Cole leading minor league baseball with 181 strike-outs in 144.1 innings of work (11.3 K/9 ratio).
"“I think everything got better. The weighted ball program certainly helped my fastball velocity, and the extra strength and command really helped bring things together for me. There are things I worked on last year and will work on this summer that are certainly making me better.”"
But the results weren’t all about the fastball either. Taylor worked off of strong command over a slider and change-up, a pitch he admits is his bread and butter (at one point, Taylor even offered some tips for the author’s son in regards to properly gripping a change-up). Combined with his increased velocity, his off-speed offerings became that much more impressive.
"“As for pitches, I’m getting really comfortable with everything I throw. However, everything is building off of the fastball and change-up combo. The extra speed is really creating that separation and I’m really happy with the results I got from them both this year.”"