He is the quintessential southern California guy. Taylor Murphy grew up alternately surfing and playing baseball in the San Diego area. The 6’2”, 200 lb. righty hails from Torrey Pines, just north of the city proper, and had to decide early whether to follow the athlete’s path to surfing or baseball.
“I’ve surfed just about as long as I’ve played baseball,” said Murphy. “I was eleven years old when I had to make a decision on surfing competitively or picking up travel ball. I think I made the right decision.”
Coming out of Torrey Pines High School, he was drafted by the hometown Padres in the 40th round of the 2011 first year player draft.
“The draft didn’t go exactly as we planned, going late in the draft,” said Murphy. “I also had the opportunity to go to college and work on my education. That is really important to me, so the decision to go to Pacific was really easy.”
He played three seasons for the Pacific Tigers under head coach and former Major Leaguer Ed Sprague and has nothing but good words to say about his collegiate experience.
“I made an early transition into the outfield at Pacific, where I got the opportunity to develop,” said Murphy. “I developed my arm strength and learned how to move back and in on balls hit to me.”
He was then selected by Cleveland in the 18th round of the 2014 draft and started his professional career with the rookie level Mahoning Valley Scrappers. He earned a spot on the 2014 New York-Penn League mid-season All-Star squad as an outfielder.
The following season he was asked by the Cleveland organization to make the switch to third base, which he did, and played a full season at Low-A Lake County as the team’s primary third base option, playing 97 games at the hot corner.
This year, he has shifted back to the outfield, but keeps himself ready to play either position.
“Where I am right now I just try and stay comfortable at both [positions],” Murphy said. “Maybe every other day I’ll take ground balls at third.”
Not only has Murphy performed well at two levels of the Cleveland farm system this year, he has the added bonus of being a cousin to former Major Leaguer Geoff Blum, who is currently part of the broadcasting team of the Houston Astros.
“Growing up I was always, ‘Geoff, can I have a ball, can I have a bat?’” says Murphy about his cousin. “Now our conversations have turned to more about the game and how to approach hitting. He’s been great. Anytime I have a question he is just a text away.”
On May 13, Murphy was promoted to the AA Akron RubberDucks and spent nearly a month in the Eastern League. At the time of his promotion he was hitting .345, filling out his triple slash line with a .429 on-base percentage and a .529 slugging percentage. He had started the season hot and was getting an opportunity to perform at a more challenging level.
“The biggest difference is the pitchers command of multiple pitches,” said Murphy about the differences he experienced while with the RubberDucks. “You might have a guy with multiple pitches [in the Carolina League] but you can usually eliminate one. Up there at AA you can’t.”
Since returning to the Hillcats on June 9, Murphy’s numbers have fallen off some, as the grind of the long baseball season eventually erodes the numbers of every player who starts off hot. This still leaves his season numbers in a Hillcats uniform in very respectable territory with a .284/.381/.467 triple slash line, backed up by eight home runs and 37 RBI.
Comparing his time as a professional to what he experienced in college, the chief element of minor league ball is getting mentally and physically adjusted to the everyday grind.
“You leave college where you are staying in a nice hotel on the weekends. You play a couple of games and then you go back to school,” said Murphy. “Now, it’s not the best hotels, we are playing every day, and you might not feel great every day.”
The apprenticeship of the minor leagues is not just about perfecting your baseball skills. That is of course a principal goal, but learning to handle the long season is also an adjustment the players have to make.
Murphy got a taste of that everyday grind playing collegiate summer ball for the East Texas Pumpjacks.
“Playing in East Texas and Louisiana was kind of like this [the hot, muggy Virginia weather],” said Murphy. “With the mugginess and humidity, you get outside for a few hours and you are worn out, it’s not San Diego.”
With some success in the Cleveland farm system, Murphy has made a mark this season and looks to parlay it into further opportunities. As a right-handed fielder, who bats left-handed, this unusual combination will serve him well.
“I’ve always been a lefty hitter,” he shared, “but I golf right-handed and I surf goofy, so it’s kind of hit or miss whenever I try a new sport.”
The now 23-year-old former Del Mar Beach lifeguard is not goofy when he comes to bat, and his positive energy, mental focus, and line drive swing have established a place for him in the Indians farm system. Now only time will tell what he will make of the opportunity.
Photo: Lathan Goumas/The News and Advance