KC Royals: Samad Taylor has case, chance for Opening Day roster

Kansas City Royals infielder Samad Taylor
Kansas City Royals infielder Samad Taylor / Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Samad Taylor is far from a household name amongst KC Royals fans. Casual fans likely only know that he and pitcher Max Castillo came to Kansas City in exchange for folk hero Whit Merrifield. The speedy second baseman was far from a generational prospect and did not factor into the Royals' near-future plans. Now, like shortstop Maikel Garcia, Taylor has a real shot and opportunity at making the Opening Day roster.

A 10th-round pick by the Cleveland Guardians in 2016, Taylor has gone through his minor-league career mostly as an afterthought. It is both a blessing and a curse. Taylor has never had excessive external expectations placed on him, but his contact-first approach will never capture fans' imagination. Taylor has steadily progressed through the minor league systems, never spending more than one season at one level before being promoted to the next. That consistent upward movement inspires more confidence compared to prospects who get mired in one level for multiple seasons or yo-yo between AA and AAA.

Infielder Samad Taylor is the current dark-horse candidate for the KC Royals Opening Day roster.

Taylor turned a corner in the 2021 season, recording a .888 OPS with a career-high 16 home runs and 30 stolen bases. It was a positive development, especially following the lost 2020 season for minor-league players. He hoped to parlay that into a strong 2022 season and did so in the season's first two months. But Taylor stumbled at the plate in June, and an oblique injury ended his season prematurely. Taylor was on pace to obliterate his career highs in home runs and stolen bases, though. In only 70 games, he recorded nine home runs and 23 stolen bases at the AAA level, showing that his promotion did not hinder the toolsy prospect.

This was all before Taylor came to the Kansas City organization, though. The Royals saw enough in him to not only send him to the Arizona Fall League, but also protect Taylor from the Rule 5 Draft. Now, Taylor is on the 40-man roster and is quickly trending to the Royals' 26-man roster.

MLB Pipeline ranked Taylor as the Royals' 21st-best prospect ahead of the 2023 season. While that ranking is a shade too low, the scouting grades are spot on. With 45 grades in both "power" and "contact," Taylor is still refining his approach at the plate. Pipeline noted that Taylor is in the right place to get better with the bat, though. Specifically, they reported Taylor is working on "letting pitches get deeper before committing, as well as in-game adjustments that will enable his bat-to-ball skills to play." It is an interesting change that would better utilize Taylor's naturally quick bat speed. He is making positive steps, if spring training is any indicator. Taylor has a 1.175 OPS and six hits in 15 at-bats this spring training. Add on this no-doubter home run, and Taylor is one of the most underrated Royals prospects this spring.

But his advances at the plate are not what will get Taylor on the Opening Day roster. It is his speed and glove.

Taylor's plus-speed is exactly the trait Kansas City loves in their depth players. At 5'10" and 160 pounds, he can fly in the field and on the basepaths. Fellow infielder Tyler Tolbert is certainly the fastest player in the Royals organization, but Taylor is in the second-place conversation. Also, fans have seen a surge in stolen base attempts this spring training. It is all due to the bigger bases and restrictions in pickoff attempts by pitchers. The full effect of these rules will be seen after Opening Day, but signs point to more teams being aggressive on the basepaths this season. The Royals have super-quick players like shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. and outfielder Nate Eaton, but Taylor would be the fastest man on the Royals bench. Kansas City would be wise to keep Taylor in reserve on the 26-man roster.

Taylor also has the defensive versatility that serves the Royals bench best. He is primarily a second baseman but has experience everywhere except first base, right field, and catcher. Taylor has had plenty of innings in left and center field since 2019, with left serving as his secondary position. He logged over 200 innings in left field during the 2022 season, playing error-free ball for the Buffalo Bisons. The Royals' outfield injuries could stack up ahead of Opening Day, and Kansas City will appreciate any capable player in the outfield. Taylor's primary position is second base, with a .985 fielding percentage since 2019. He had four errors in 610 innings at second base the past two years, a mark that would be among the best in the Royals' farm system. As veteran Nicky Lopez is in the World Baseball Classic, Taylor stands to get more opportunities at second during spring training. But, if Taylor's performance continues, Lopez may not be in Kansas City much longer.

The recent Royals conspiracy theory is that veteran Nicky Lopez is an underrated trade candidate ahead of Opening Day. The Chicago White Sox already inquired about him this offseason, but the Royals are not keen on trading with Pedro Grifol's new team. Several MLB teams, including NL contenders the Los Angeles Dodgers and the St. Louis Cardinals, are already dealing with injuries in the infield. It is not unrealistic to think that a team would trade for Lopez, a dependable defender with positional versatility. He would not command a king's ransom and could use a fresh start after a disappointing 2022 season. Witt has shortstop locked up, plus Michael Massey looks like the future at second base. If a team comes calling for Lopez, that would only increase Taylor's chances of playing in Kansas City.

Taylor is certainly not pushing for a starting spot over Kyle Isbel or Massey, but rather as their emergency backup. There is no other prospect who could play the various positions Taylor can while still having a palatable bat. Manager Matt Quatraro has been open about Maikel Garcia's opportunity to play all over the field this spring. That is a valid approach, to try and get Garcia's bat in the lineup. But even Garcia does not have the versatility that Taylor does if the season started today. Garcia has never played outside second base and shortstop during nearly 300 minor-league games. His transitioning smoothly to the outfield is no certainty, while Taylor has extensive experience there.

More than 1,000 words all to say this: Samad Taylor is no superstar, but he could be a dependable player in 2023. He already has the speed and defense the Royals love, and the bat has come along nicely this spring. The Royals need to seriously consider keeping Taylor with the major-league club. There are other factors that help or hurt his chances, but Taylor's own ability has started this conversation.

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