Former BYU pitcher Taylor Cole hopes baseball will take him back to where he served an LDS mission
Jim Goins, Dunedin Blue Jays
By the end of 2010, Taylor Cole was finishing up his missionary call with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Toronto.
Now the 6-foot-1 right-handed pitcher is in Single-A Dunedin, Florida, aiming for a shot to one day return to Toronto — with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Cole has had success in Dunedin too. He led the Florida State League with 101 strikeouts in just 83 innings of work, a 5-3 record and 2.60 ERA after 13 starts with the Dunedin Blue Jays — an advanced Single-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays — in the first half of the year.
The success this season gave Cole the opportunity to start the Florida State League All-Star Game last week, which his North squad won 6-4.
“It was an honor to have,” he said, in a phone interview with the Deseret News from Florida. “It’s just an honor to do that because it’s testament to the hard work and coaching that I’ve had and all the influences and the people that have believed in me and have also helped me. It’s a good testament to them.”
But before all the success, he was knocking on doors in Toronto as a missionary.
Cole said the primary lesson he was able to learn in that time toward his baseball career was patience. Patience is the key that has helped him in the wild and stressful world that is minor league baseball.
“When you’re out on a mission, you don’t always see success right away,” he said. “You’re knocking on doors and doing a lot of stuff to find people to teach and you don’t always have those investigators. You have to be patient and see things happen as you go, eventually. You can’t control the movement in an organization in baseball. You can’t really control anything. You just have to be patient with yourself and the process.”
Cole added the working lifestyle of a missionary also has helped him in the minors.
“On a mission, you don’t really get any days off, except for your preparation day, when you get that one day to do the things you need to do," he said. "Playing pro ball, you get maybe one or two days off per month.”
Cole’s wife, Madilyn, has been alongside him the entire journey too, which he said has been crucial for him in his career.
“It’s awesome — family comes first to me,” he said. “My wife will always be number one. I’m just glad she’s there for me in my dreams, goals and ambitions, and I want to give back the same to her. She, more than anyone, wants me to succeed in baseball and in other aspects of life.
“She knows how much baseball means to me and she pushes me harder than anybody. Having her in my corner is awesome.”
However, the righty’s journey to minor league baseball has been a winding road. After graduating from high school in Las Vegas, Cole was taken in the 26th round of the 2007 Major League Baseball player-entry draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers, but didn’t sign.
Cole was drafted again in 2008 after playing a year at the College of Southern Nevada, going in the 31st round to the Arizona Diamondbacks, but instead of signing, he embarked on a two-year LDS mission in Canada.
After the mission, Cole transferred to BYU, where he posted a 5-5 record, with a 2.99 ERA in 15 starts and total 16 appearances.
Near the tail end of the season, Cole was approached by a Toronto Blue Jays scout, and sure enough Toronto drafted him in the 29th round of the 2011 draft.
“I went from Toronto on my mission to BYU to back in Toronto with the Blue Jays organization within a year or two,” Cole said.
This time Cole signed with the team that drafted him and immediately was assigned to the organization’s short-season affiliate in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
“Playing pro ball is just something I’ve always wanted to do,” he said. “I had already gone through the process and went on my mission, so I was a little bit older. I just wanted to get out and play and said, ‘Hey, why hold out for more money when I can kind of prove what player I am here playing professional baseball.’ ”
In his first year, Cole went 1-3 with a 5.88 ERA in 11 appearances that season. Cole performed considerably better the next season, going 6-0 with a 0.81 ERA in 12 appearances and 66 1/3 innings, which earned him a promotion to Lansing, Michigan, in the Midwest League by the end of the year.
Though Cole put up decent numbers with the Lansing Lugnuts, he didn’t put up quite the same numbers he has posted in Dunedin this year. For instance, he picked up 101 strikeouts in 132 innings with Lansing, while he already has 101 strikeouts in 49 fewer innings this year.
Cole said he started becoming more aggressive in his approach this season, pounding the strike zone and getting ahead in counts. In addition to improving his strikeout numbers, he’s improved his walk numbers. The righty had a robust 5.7-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio in the first half of this season compared to 1.7-to-1 in Lansing last year.
“I learned some things from last year,” he said. “I learned that I needed to attack guys with my fastball, which would open up — make my off-speed pitches better. Going after guys is my new mindset. I don’t want to walk anybody and I don’t want to nibble at them, I just want to go after them.”
At the same time, Dunedin has been winning games with and without Cole on the mound. The Blue Jays won the first half of the 2014 FSL season with a 46-23 record.
That kind of success carries a different atmosphere in the clubhouse, Cole said.
“Being in a winning environment has been a blessing and helped us all kind of raise our games,” he said. “We’re doing well. We don’t want to be the guy to let (the team) down. You want to keep riding that wave.”
The reward for his growing success and Dunedin’s winning ways was the starting nod in the FSL All-Star Game, where he even pitched on the same team as former University of Utah pitcher Tyler Wagner. Both pitchers tossed scoreless innings in the game.
“(Wagner) is actually a good friend of mine and we actually went out to dinner the other night when I was playing in Brevard County with my folks,” Cole said. “We never played together, but we went to the same high school and have been friends.”
The goal now is to build closer to the dream of making the majors, and maybe doing so by returning to Toronto.
The second half of the season has been more of a struggle for Cole. In three starts, he's allowed 23 hits, 17 runs (14 earned) and 12 strikeouts in 14 innings. His ERA has jumped to 3.23 on the year.
However, the righty is focusing on where’s he’s at now and improving on it.
“I don’t have any number goals or anything. Just want to work hard and have fun and be a good teammate,” he said. “Ultimately, I’d like to win a championship, whether I’m here or at another level.”
He’ll also be there to support his wife, who will begin law school at BYU in the baseball offseason.
“It’ll be a good opportunity for me to sacrifice a little bit and be there for her while she’s trying to achieve her dreams as well,” he said.
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