Lancaster, California —— Taylor Kohlwey was an otherworldly superstar in college.
Not in the way most of us like to re-live our “glory days” with a good bit of exaggeration and hyperbole, but in the real, authentic way: a 51-game hitting streak that spanned two seasons of play made him forever one of the best baseball players in the history of his NCAA Division III alma-mater, the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
Even after playing against small-school, northern state competition for four years, Kohlwey’s consistency and production drew the notice of the San Diego Padres, who made him their 21st round draft pick in 2016. And now, in the first full year of his professional baseball career, the outfielder has already jumped to High-A Lake Elsinore, where he’s slashed .243/.313/.337/.650 over 300 at-bats across 91 games as his Storm ready for their final contest of the season on Monday.
To say the adjustment to big-time pro ball life has been daunting, then, is understating it a little bit.
“It’s a challenge, but you have to go out there and compete, and have fun, and try to get better every day,” Kohlwey told Baseball Census during a recent interview. “I know I’m not the best guy out here. I know I’m not the most toolsy guy like some of these guys out here, but I’m trying to get better each day, and I have confidence. Maybe sometimes I have to fake a little confidence, you know? But I believe in myself, and I know that I’m here for a reason.”
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As you might expect from a late-round, small-school guy in an organization littered with exciting, younger prospects, Taylor Kohlwey isn’t the first option in the lineup, either. Or, the second. Or… the third. Often times, he’s the last outfielder off the bench, playing the day game after night games, or the final game on the long road trip, or the rough night against a nasty lefty, just to give a prospect a much-needed day off.
Such is life for a guy in that station — and it’s been an eye-opener.
“It’s tough, but you have to really work on sticking to a routine every day, and I think you have to focus on being a good teammate,” the outfielder said. “Hits, stats, none of that stuff really matters as long as I’m hitting the ball hard and feeling good. If I hit the ball hard, but I don’t get a hit, that’s all right. I can pound four balls but hit ‘em right at guys and walk away 0-for-4, but in a way, I had a great night. That’s the important part, and that’s been a big adjustment.”
“Honestly, just being ready to play every day is tough,” he continued. “This is a very different schedule from college. You’ll feel great one day, and the next day you feel terrible. You really have to stay right up in the head. But more than anything, this is fun, and you have to make it fun.”
Maybe that’s the biggest takeaway for a guy like Taylor Kohlwey, who plainly won’t get as many chances to prove himself in pro ball as will a bonus baby from a bigger school or better background. That’s the reality of this game, and maybe that reality means the outfielder will be jettisoned unceremoniously this winter, or the next, or the one after that when the San Diego Padres fill his roster spot with somebody just a little bit better.
To that end, Taylor Kohlwey can’t really take this game any other way than how he is now: it’s bonus baseball, a shot at the game beyond college, with a small (but non-zero!) chance at the big leagues, here for as long as he can hang on for the ride.
“It’s fun to have all my buddies from college following along and asking how I’m doing and all that stuff,” the outfielder said, grinning. “They wish they could still be playing, so I know I’m lucky. Sometimes I don’t realize how lucky I am.”