Michael Taylor's introduction to playing first base
Michael Taylor presented the idea to his coaches in January that he give first base a shot -- they agreed. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
PHOENIX -- One of the most memorable scenes in the movie 'Moneyball' was when A's general manager Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, and an actor portraying Ron Washington visited the home of Scott Hatteberg in order to pitch him on the idea of playing first base.
"It's incredibly hard," the movie version of Washington quipped.
That never actually happened in real life. But Hatteberg did end up a converted first baseman. The position swap changed his life, saved his career and led to one of the most memorable home runs in Oakland Athletics history.
Now Hatteberg is the teacher. His student: A's prospect Michael Taylor.
"I thought Ron Washington was such a genius as far as an instructor. I know behind the scenes he was saying how bad I was," Hatteberg joked. "He really worked on the mental part and the confidence part and we're trying to do the same with Michael."
On Thursday, Hatteberg gave instruction as special assistant Phil Garner chimed in. Sacramento River Cats hitting coach Greg Sparks hit grounders to Taylor as he practiced at first base. River Cats manager Steve Scarsone provided insights as he stood to the left of the bag and took the occasional toss from Taylor.
This process began been back in January. Taylor presented the idea to his coaches and they agreed that it would be a good idea.
"I basically came to the conclusion at this point in my career that having as many hats in my closet is a positive thing," Taylor said. "I really looked at it and said if someone needs a first baseman whether it be here, Triple-A, or another ball club, I could be able to say I've played there before and have some experience and at least do a serviceable job."
The potential position change could be another smart move by the Oakland organization. Last season Brandon Moss, who was an outfielder by trade, spent his time in Triple-A refining his first base experience and ended up hitting .291 with 21 home runs for the A's.
Moss is a left-handed hitter and Taylor, who bats right, could be an ideal complementary part at first.
"Hatteberg made that transition, Sparky played that position forever. I've already started to pick Daric Barton's brain and even Brandon Moss' (as well)," Taylor said. "What they struggled with what was easy, what was really hard and what I should focus on first and go from there."
During the practice session, Taylor used his 6-foot-5 frame to snatch line drives out of the air to the amazement of his coaches. He dug balls out of the dirt and flashed some leather with quick hands on a couple of tough hops. He also missed a few, but it's all part of the learning curve.
"He's very athletic, his feet move well. The plus thing that he has for a corner infielder is that he has great hands," Sparks said. "Taking it to the infield, it's just a quicker reaction time."
Sparks believes Taylor is thinking his way through the process, but eventually it will become second nature to him. The Stanford-educated outfielder is a quick learner and has the physical tools to be a good baseball player if he can find a more permanent spot on a big league roster.
"Every guy in the minor leagues that is knocking on the door wants to be in the big leagues and they are going to do whatever it takes," Hatteberg said. "He's a very talented guy. He's got a huge skill set. We're trying to get him in there too."
It may be incredibly hard, but if the success of the players before him is any indication, Taylor could find away to reinvent himself as a ball player. It might not make it onto the silver screen, but there's certainly a silver lining.