By Steve Breazeale
Blake Taylor is a pitcher and always has been.
He is a big left-hander with a fastball steadily clocked between 90-92 mph and is committed to the University of Hawaii. He is also a Major League prospect who has been approached by all 30 professional organizations.
In his first two years of high school at El Toro, Taylor never picked up a bat. Instead, he worked on pitching mechanics and the development of his power arm. He thought he wouldn’t have to hit again.
That was, until he transferred to Dana Hills his junior year.
Dolphins head coach Tom Faris spied the 6-foot-3-inch Taylor and wanted to see what he could do in the batting cages. Taylor, who more than willingly stepped into the batter’s box, hadn’t picked up a bat since eighth grade. He didn’t know what to expect from himself.
“I was going to go up there and swing as hard as I could,” Taylor recalled.
What Faris saw was a violent and raw swing, full of the same power that Taylor possesses on the mound.
Now, in a season where offense is projected to be slightly down from recent years, Taylor, a senior, finds himself playing a different role on the Dana Hills baseball team—hitter. The cleanup hitter to be exact.
Taylor is pulling double duty as a top of the rotation, next level pitcher and No. 4 hitter. He currently leads the team in home runs (two), is second in RBIs (six) and third on the team in batting average (.385) amongst players with 20 or more plate appearances.
His hitting is still a work in progress, but Faris is enjoying Taylor’s early season production.
“He’s acclimated himself to the environment of hitting… Just his stature alone stepping into the box is intimidating, so a lot of (pitchers) will just stay away from him,” Faris said. “He’s a big kid, he hits the ball hard…he just needs reps.”
While the addition of Taylor to the Dolphins lineup has been beneficial to the team, he still has to keep an eye on the future. The threat of hurting himself while running the bases lingers, but Taylor is confident that Faris and the coaching staff have taught him how to take care of his body.
Faris and his staff have also constructed a strict progressive pitch count for Taylor, which started at a maximum of 60 pitches in the preseason but has since developed to around 90 per outing. The target goal is to get him to 100 pitches.
The early season pitch count affected a game or two, particularly in a 5-3 Dana Hills loss to Tesoro on February 25, when Taylor was taken out of the game with a one-run lead. But Faris and Taylor both know that the left-hander must steadily work his way through the year, which could transition past the high school season.
“We’re not just worrying about him reaching his peak through June, we need him to be able to step on a baseball field and play the summer if he needs to. That’s kind of the idea with him,” Faris said. “It was a progression…It may have cost us a little bit but you have to do that. It’s a big league arm and you have to take care of him.”
Taylor may not have the desirable pitching record right now (0-1 in four appearances), the result of being a bit unlucky at times, but he does have a 1.87 ERA in 15 innings pitched. He expects to be in top form at the end of the upcoming spring break. Along with fellow senior Grant Dyer (3-0, 0.74 ERA), the Dolphins (6-5, 0-2 league) have a formidable one-two punch at the top of the rotation and aspirations of a league title, which is what Taylor is focusing on at the moment.
He has the future to think about, but Taylor is willing to do whatever it takes to win, even if that means being counted on to produce on the mound and at the plate.
“It’s more of a team thing. Obviously these guys are going to be behind me no matter what. I can’t go out there being selfish. That’s not the game that I was raised to play anyway,” Taylor said.