MILWAUKEE — Taylor Green knows he doesn’t have the natural tools some star baseball players have. Selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 25th round of the 2005 MLB Draft, Green didn’t start in pro baseball as a highly touted prospect, either.
But since he started in the Brewers organization in 2006, they’ve seen something else in Green that higher draft picks or five-tool players don’t always show in the early years of their baseball career.
“There’s a lot of good Triple-A hitters that, when they come up here, the thinking part, they can’t figure it out,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said on Tuesday. “Whenever we look at somebody, I always ask, ‘What’s upstairs? Does he have good instincts? Can he figure things out when things are going wrong?’ Because things are going to go wrong here, and if you can’t figure things out … you better be loaded with talent. Some guys are loaded with enough talent that they can do well here, but most guys aren’t.”
It’s instincts like Roenicke is talking about that carried Green to the majors in 2011 as a second and third baseman and pinch hitter. And with a season-ending injury to everyday first baseman Mat Gamel on the team’s last road trip, it’s his instincts that have given him another opportunity at being an everyday player in the major leagues.
But that’s nothing new for Green. He takes pride in being known for extraordinary intangibles.
“Ever since I was younger,” Green said on Wednesday, “I tried to make the most of everything, and so far it’s working out well.”
Since starting in Class-A ball as a 20-year-old, Green has produced at the plate at nearly every level, keeping his batting average near .300 for five consecutive seasons. That’s unusual for most minor-league players, who usually experience some kind of letdown when jumping up a class.
Green, however, has been a picture of consistency throughout, and last year, the Brewers really started to take notice.
In 120 games at Nashville last season, Green hit .336 with 22 home runs and 88 RBI — the latter two numbers were good for top 10 in the Pacific Coast League. That kind of production led the Brewers to call up Green to the majors in 2011, in the middle of their hunt for an NL Central title.
“He was swinging the bat great last year when we brought him up,” Roenicke said. “He had a fantastic year in Triple-A — swung that bat really well for the first three, four weeks with us. Now, when the timing is right, we want him to swing the bat.”
Green got a hit in seven of his first eight Brewers games after being called up. He legitimized his reputation as a consistent hitter, and despite some struggles as the season ended, the team knew what it could expect out of Green. He didn’t make the playoff roster, but it was clear he’d get another chance.
So when a bevy of injuries began piling up in the past few weeks, the Brewers called upon Green, who had been batting .287 through 27 games in Nashville. But there was one problem this time around. They didn’t have room at third base. Or second.
New signee Aramis Ramirez and long-time second baseman Rickie Weeks haven’t left many openings for Green or others to jump in. But at first base, Roenicke hasn’t had many options since Mat Gamel tore his ACL last week. Backup Travis Ishikawa is a capable replacement, and so is former Braves utilityman Brooks Conrad. But Roenicke called up Green and asked him to start practicing at first.
He got just two games in Nashville at first base. He took a few grounders at the position. And suddenly, last Sunday, Green was a full-fledged major league first baseman.
He hit a double that night and handled his duties at first base admirably. Of course, he confessed that fewer balls were hit his way than usual.
“There were a lot of lefties in the lineup,” Green said with a smile.
Green had switched positions before — he was a shortstop through college and was asked to switch to third base early on in the minors — so this was nothing new. Still, he admitted he’d need some time to get used to the nuances of the position.
And that’s where the instincts Roenicke had spoken so highly about come in. That’s why he’s confident Green will be able to produce wherever he puts him.
“He plays all the positions,” Roenicke said. “I think he’ll do an adequate job anywhere we put him. We’re going to match him up along with (Ishikawa), and if he gets hot swinging the bat, he’s going to play there a lot.”
On a team that hasn’t seen much consistency at the plate, Green’s path is there to possibly make an impact in 2012. And for a guy who never had five tools or a spot in the majors waiting for him, that’s a testament to the work he’s done to get to Milwaukee.
“He’s hit at every level,” Roenicke said. “The guy’s a good hitter, and he figures things out. He’ll go through some growing pains here. They’re going to scout him, they’re going to figure out how to get him out, and he’ll make adjustments.”
Because, well, that’s just what Taylor Green does.