Travis Taijeron is in one of those career stalemates. Now 27 years old and coming off his sixth minor league season, he is no longer one of the Mets top prospects, yet there seemingly is no room in Queens for Taijeron to make his big league debut.
So what’s next?
There is plenty to like about the big right-handed-hitting outfielder. Taijeron was drafted in the 18th round out of Cal Poly Pomona, where he became one of the most feared power hitters in Division II. His senior campaign, he not only matched his single-season record of 16 home runs for the Broncos, but saw pitchers stop pitching to him as he was walked 24 times in the last month of his collegiate career. He was the unanimous West Region Player of the Year, and the Mets swooped in and grabbed him 552nd overall.
Taijeron quickly turned heads in his 2011 half-season debut. He raked nine home runs in his first 194 at bats for the Brooklyn Cyclones in the New York-Penn League, while adding 13 doubles and five triples. Early on in his career, you could see the one glaring problem that would haunt him, and that is his strikeout rate. He struck out 28.4 percent of the time in his first season, but due to his immense power, he was able to offset it, walking ten percent of the time.
Taijeron climbed the minor league ladder, consistently showing that he can be a professional hitter. The only question that remained was at what level would he peak. He continued to pile up home runs at every level, big ones at that, while the strikeouts continued to amass as well. Despite striking out well over 100 times in each full season he has played — finishing second in the PCL the past two seasons with a combined 313 strikeouts over 1,019 plate appearances, a staggering 31 percent of the time — he also piles up the walks and has no problem getting on base, as evidenced by his .370 career on-base percentage.
“He got us off to a great start, that’s for sure,” then-Las Vegas skipper Wally Backman said after the Triple-A All Star Game. “It was a big two-run home run that he hit early.”
It was majestic. One of the things the people on hand in Charlotte for the Triple-A All Star Game wanted to see was a patented Taijeron blast. We got it when he went to centerfield with a two-run bomb in the second inning. Seeing a Taijeron home run in person is a pretty sight, especially in the home of the Charlotte Knights, an International League team and not one of the PCL team’s stadiums that are widely known as a launching pads for home runs. He has true power that translates anywhere he goes; he is not simply a product of his environment.
“Travis is motivated,” Backman said after the All-Star Game. “I know that everybody is going to see all the strikeouts, but they say today strikeouts don’t matter. We’re looking at the run production, and if you look at that run production that he’s produced this year, it’s going to surpass everything he did last year.”
It’s true. They say in today’s game strikeouts don’t matter as long as you get the runs across, and Taijeron does that by the boat load. Last season he finished fourth in the PCL in RBI with 88 while producing a 134 wRC+. His OPS is almost always creeping near the .900 mark, finishing at .886 last season, and he simply doesn’t just rake them over the wall, leading the PCL in doubles last year with 42.
While he played a lot more in centerfield in the early parts of his career, he seems to be settling in as a power-hitting right fielder. As he aged and grew more into his 6-foot-2, 220 pound frame, he lost the range in center. This season he did commit seven errors in right, but he did also contribute eight assists, leading to three double-plays.
And that’s where the problem there inlays. The Mets have made it sound like they want to keep the veteran outfield in tact, with Yoenis Cespedes, Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce bringing more pop to this lineup than they have seen in awhile. Behind them, the Mets have younger prospects — such as Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto — that seemingly have the bench roles for 2017 locked up already.
He’s in prospect limbo as he is at an age where people begin to wonder if he is a “Quad-A” hitter. He has all the power in the world, he’s been an All-Star, but the Mets simply don’t seem to have room for him in their system. He is stuck somewhere between a Steven Moya and Minor League Home Run King Mike Hessman. He has yet to be added to the 40-man roster, so unless anything changes, his time with the Mets may come to an end with the Rule 5 Draft.
Taijeron is an interesting situation. He’s not the first big-time hitter to bide his time in the minor leagues, seemingly ready for at least a chance, but not getting it. There are enough teams out there that could use someone with his skill set almost immediately at the big league level. Time will tell if — and where — he ever gets that chance.