Las Vegas, Nevada —— After five years, 454 games, and 1,920 minor league plate appearances, the Colorado Rockies recalled outfielder Mike Tauchman to the big leagues on Tuesday, where he made his Major League debut pinch hitting in the club’s eventual extra innings loss to the San Francisco Giants.
A tenth round pick out of Bradley University in 2013, Tauchman has never landed on any top prospect list, and yet he boasts a career .295/.363/.408/.771 slash line in the minors, aided by a respectable 180:292 walk-to-strikeout ratio. In other words, Tauchman is a shrewd hitter who takes an advanced, methodical approach at the plate.
That was clear early this year in Triple-A Albuquerque—the outfielder was hitting .313/.377/.529/.906 in 70 games before his call-up—and it’s even more plainly obvious in his own personal approach to the daily grind of the professional game. The lefty swinger improved significantly from his first shot at Albuquerque in 2016, raising his OPS nearly 200 points thanks to significantly more power (ten home runs in 2017 compared to just one homer in 129 games last summer) and a more discerning eye to draw walks.
Almost surgical in his thought process breaking down every at-bat, Mike Tauchman didn’t make those year-to-year improvements on dumb luck.
“You’re constantly evolving as a hitter, and as a ballplayer, and last year was a great learning experience for me,” the newest member of the Colorado Rockies told Baseball Census after batting practice ahead of a recent Albuquerque game. “So many pitchers in Triple-A have Major League experience, and their pitchability is really high, so my ability to think along with them, and to think along with the catchers, was something I really had to improve at last year.”
“And these veteran pitchers and catchers, they go in with a plan and often a backup plan too, and they really know how to set you up for certain pitches,” Tauchman continued. “Combine that with being this close to the big leagues, and everybody is really numbers-conscious, too. It all means your situational awareness has to be pretty high. Can you read when you’re getting pitched around? Can you judge how you’re being pitched based on who is on base, or who is coming up next?”
Triple-A is a weird league, in some ways. If Double-A is where all the prospects go before hitting The Show, Triple-A is for the 40-man roster depth options waiting for an injury, the 30-something rejects trying to play out their careers, the nearly-30-something hopefuls who probably don’t have another shot to reach the bigs and yet think they might anyways, and the 20-something soon-to-be-journeymen forever fated to live out their existence just below the big money. Sure, on occasion you’ll get an Amed Rosario coming through for an extended, exciting Triple-A showing too, but it’s largely a transient level of veterans just waiting for the next roster move. That proved an important realization for the fresh-faced 26-year-old Tauchman.
“Reality sets in a little bit when there are guys who are here one day, up in the big leagues the next day, and then right back down here again,” Tauchman admitted about life in the Pacific Coast League. “That makes it real. It shows you that you really have to always be prepared for your chance. And in that sense, you can’t be too up, or too down, because no matter how you’re doing down here, when you get that call to go up, you’d better be ready to perform. And more than that you have to be really confident in your routine. If I go up, I might get a pinch-hit here, a couple starts there, and then I may not play for a week. And if that happens, it’s critical to be really confident in a routine.”
That last bit turned out to be a prescient thought from Mike Tauchman. On Tuesday night, his Major League debut consisted of sitting the bench for the Colorado Rockies until the top of the 12th inning when he pinch hit for reliever Chris Rusin and grounded out. And with playing time suddenly tough to come by after being promoted to one of the league’s better ball clubs, suddenly Mike Tauchman could take a page out of Rosario’s book: don’t be surprised, be ready.
“I really watch the Rockies’ best players, and it’s striking how they are so routine-conscious, and so even-keeled,” Tauchman said, then referencing his experiences with the big league club during spring training. “Baseball is probably the most failure-driven sport, so to be able to keep your emotion in check is as important as what you bring physically. And guys like [Carlos Gonzalez], and DJ [LeMahieu], and Charlie [Blackmon], and Nolan [Arenado], those guys are so confident in their routine and they know exactly what they need to do every day that when the game comes, it’s almost like it gets easier for them because they are so well-prepared. That’s become something that I’ve really tried to put in my preparation, too.”
That’ll be the goal for Tauchman moving forward, no matter how long his call-up will last; a pinch hit here, maybe a spot start there, and a lot of time riding the bench between chances, trying to perfect his routine on the lowest rung of the highest level. That he’s there now, though, is itself the biggest win of his career.
“Major League clubs, they want to win,” Tauchman told me a few weeks ago, ages before his call-up was on the radar. “That’s their bottom line. For me, that means I have to improve myself every day down here to do the things that’ll turn myself into a winning ballplayer. And whenever Bud Black or Jeff Bridich or whoever it may be calls down to [Glenallen] Hill and says ‘who do you have? Who can we use?’ I want to put myself in the best position physically and mentally for G Hill to say, ‘you know what, this guy is ready. This guy can come up and do the job you need him to do.’”
When the Colorado Rockies called down this week, Hill evidently did that part; now, it’s on Mike Tauchman to prove it.