When spring training started last February, Astros pitcher Blake Taylor was on no one’s radar. The 24-year old lefty had been acquired two months before by the previous regime without any Major League experience, having appeared in just three Triple-A games.
“He was a guy we didn’t know anything about,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said Friday.
Taylor pitched well before spring training was shutdown and continued that momentum into summer camp where he earned a spot on the Astros opening day roster. He Debuted with a 1-2-3 inning in the opener against Seattle and quickly turned into an indispensable member of Baker’s bullpen, finishing the season with a 2.18 ERA in 22 games, becoming another in the long line of the Astros manager’s spring training surprises.
“Every year I count on a couple of guys that we weren’t really counting on,” Baker said. “this is a game of competition. I know we're on the same team, but you're competing for jobs, and you like to have competition for certain jobs because competition either brings out the best or the worst in you, and if you can't compete for a job, how are you going to compete against the opposition?”
Along with Taylor, Baker said Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, and Kyle Tucker were his 2020 spring training surprises, joining a list that includes former Giants outfielder Marvin Benard, and Mike Leake, who made the Reds opening day roster in 2010 before appearing in a minor league game. Who could join Baker’s group of spring training surprises in 2021? How about top prospect Forrest Whitley.
“He’s ready, he’s confident. He feels in his mind like he has a chance to make this club and that’s how you’re supposed to feel.”
Whitley, the Astros first round pick in 2016 has yet to report to camp as of Saturday morning for undisclosed reasons, but Baker maintains he is healthy and should arrive in the next few days.