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Name: Taylor Sparks
Acquired: 2nd-round selection in 2014 amateur draft
Highest Level: Rookie Ball Billings Mustangs
2014 Statistics: 10 HR, 30 RBI, .232 BA, .350 OBP, .490 SLG
After turning down the Cleveland Indians offer to play professional baseball in 2011 when the Tribe drafted him in the 24th round,Taylor Sparks turned a strong college career at UC Irvine into a second-round selection by the Cincinnati Reds in 2014. Apparently, Major League teams from Ohio have taken a shine to the soon-to-be 22-year-old third baseman, and the Reds hope that he is able to groom his prodigious into a reliable Big League weapon.
In his first professional rodeo last summer, Sparks tagged 10 home runs in just 55 games for the Rookie-level Billings Mustangs, but his big power swing came with a lot of misses. Sparks’ strikeout rate increased through the short season, and he ended up with 84 whiffs in 240 plate appearance, “good” for a concerning 35% K-rate. He did manage to walk 31 times and boost his on-base percentage to .350, but controlling the strike zone is clearly something Sparks needs to work on if he plans to move up the organizational ladder.
Aside from his considerable power, Sparks showed good speed on the base paths, swiping 14 bags against just one caught-stealing.
Sparks struggled a bit in the field, committing 12 errors in 91 attempts for a .913 fielding percentage. Scouting reports generally see Sparks as a Major-League-average or slightly better fielder, so he will likely become more steady with continued play against the stiffer competition.
Sparks is one of several prospects at third base who could make it easier for the Reds to say goodbye to Todd Frazier after the 2016 season. If Sparks can get a handle on his strikeouts, he might make the Spring Training invite list next season and set himself up for a shot at the Bigs within the next few years.
Riverfront ETA: 2017-18