FORT MYERS, Fla. — Josh Taylor’s journey from an undrafted free agent to the Red Sox 40-man roster went through Scottsdale Community College, Division II Georgia College, the Northwoods League, and then both the Phillies and Diamondbacks organizations.
Boston added Taylor, a 6-foot-5 lefty who topped out at 98 mph last year, to its 40-man roster in November to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. He called being added “a surprise, for sure.”
“I saw the phone ringing. You kind of get that feel this is going to go one of two ways — and hope for the best,” Taylor told MassLive.com at JetBlue Park on Wednesday. “Once I was told I was getting added, it was just a relief and excitement. I called my family right after I got off the phone (with vice president of player development Ben Crockett). It was just a big breath of fresh air realizing I’ve reached the steps up to this point and now the next step is to make it up there and stay up there.”
The Red Sox acquired the 25-year-old last season from the Diamondbacks for Deven Marrero, a former first-round draft pick. Taylor posted a 3.35 ERA in 48 outings (53.2 innings) between High A (16 innings), Double A (35.2 innings) and Triple A (2 innings) during 2018. He recorded a 2.10 ERA in his final 24 appearances (25.2 innings).
“My goal (at spring training) is to give them the best look I can and hope for an opportunity to make the 25-man roster. And if not out of spring training, then as soon as possible this year,” Taylor said. “Give ’em what I’ve got and let them know I’m here to work and here to help the team.”
Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said Wednesday, “The depth we have in our bullpen we like. We like some of the young arms coming.”
Taylor is one of those young arms.
He repertoire includes a four-seam fastball, slider, curveball and two-seamer.
“I think pitch calling and pitch sequencing that I’ve learned in this organization really has helped me,” Taylor said. “Because anyone can hit a fastball. Anyone can hit a slider. Anyone can hit a curveball. But if you’re throwing them in the right situations, in the right counts, you’ve got the upper-hand on the hitter to get him out.”
Taylor’s journey began at Scottsdale Community College. He pitched there as a freshman and sophomore.
“I had good years my first years at Scottsdale Community College and I had the opportunity to go play at a Division II school in Georgia,” he said.
Taylor matriculated at Georgia College in Milledgeville, Ga. But he struggled as a junior in 2014. He went 7-4 with a 5.62 ERA and 1.92 WHIP in 16 outings (15 starts). He averaged 1.39 walks per nine innings compared to 6.16 strikeouts (83 innings).
“I just didn’t put up the numbers I should have,” Taylor said. “I had a couple calls during the draft.”
But no team selected him.
“I figured I’d go back for my senior year until I played in the Northwoods League with the St. Cloud Rox,” Taylor said.
The Northwoods League is a collegiate summer league with teams from Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Thunder Bay, Ontario.
St. Cloud Rox pitching coach J.P. Martinez — now an assistant pitching coordinator in the Minnesota Twins system — helped Taylor with his mechanics.
“Everything just started to click. I gained four or five miles an hour on my fastball just within 10 minutes of working on stuff,” Taylor said. “I think that’s what really caught the eye of some of the scouts during that time. In the showcase game in that league, I happened to have a pretty good outing. I got a couple calls after that and it’s where it all sparked.”
He signed as an undrafted free agent with the Phillies on Aug. 12, 2014. He played in the Gulf Coast League in 2014, then in the Low-A South Atlantic League in 2015 before Philadelphia traded him to his hometown team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, July 5, 2015.
Taylor is a Phoenix native.
“Born and raised out there,” Taylor said. “So that was a good experience. I loved every bit of playing for the hometown team. Whether I was in the minor leagues or not, to represent the hometown team it was good.”
Taylor was a Diamondbacks fan growing up, but he added, “Weirdly enough I was also a Red Sox fan. … People always talk about the rivalry: Yankees and Red Sox. I was like ‘Oh, I like the Red Sox.’ So I just followed the Red Sox up until I really caught onto the Diamondbacks. But I’ve always been Red Sox/Diamondbacks.
“I was a big Johny Damon fan. Obviously David Ortiz. He’s a legend.”
Here he is trying to make his big league dream a reality with his other favorite childhood team.
“It’s still clicking,” he said. “It’s still going. I’m not there yet. I’ve got a lot of work to do. And I’ve got a lot of people to show that I can get there. But once I got traded the first time, it kind of told me, ‘OK, not only one team wanted me, apparently.’”