Maybe Chris Taylor isn’t ready to smile yet.
The infielder’s controlled demeanor sparked a response from Mariners manager Scott Servais in a spring training game midway through March.
“I joked with him — I want to see Chris smile,” Servais said. “He doesn’t smile very much, and I threw a handful of sunflower seeds at his helmet before he came in the game — ‘Will you smile today?’ ”
Taylor, 25, cracked a small one after doubling that day against San Francisco, but it was fleeting.
“I get that a lot,” Taylor said. “I’m a very serious player. That doesn’t mean I’m not having fun. It’s very easy for me to get distracted, so I have to focus as much as I can.”
Trying to focus didn’t do much for Taylor this spring, but neither did trying to relax. Servais said Taylor had about as tough a camp as a player can have.
He was optioned to Tacoma on Monday, one day after Shawn O’Malley was sent down. Taylor and O’Malley were in a three-way contest with Luis Sardinas to open the season as Seattle’s utility infielder.
Taylor’s uneven performance at the plate — he was 8 for 42 (.190) with 12 strikeouts in 20 games — and some uncharacteristic mistakes in the field helped give Sardinas an edge and ultimately a big league job.
“We did not see the best of Chris Taylor,” Servais said. “I know he’s better than he played. For him, probably more than any player we sent down, he needs to get his confidence back.
“It just wasn’t happening. It wasn’t happening at the plate. Then it started not happening in the field. He’s always been very sure-handed at any position in the field. It just hasn’t been there for him.”
Taylor will begin his season with the Rainiers for the third consecutive year. Last year, it was on a rehab assignment after a wrist injury during spring training landed him on the disabled list.
This year, he’ll likely spend time developing at positions apart from his typical home at shortstop.
“We’re trying to make him the best player he can possibly be,” Rainiers manager Pat Listach said. “The more positions he can play, the better he can be.”
Taylor took reps at multiple positions this spring, and Servais said he could work his way around the entire infield as he transitions into a utility role.
Taylor is solid in the middle infield — he finished with a .958 fielding percentage (72 games) at shortstop last season with Tacoma and a 1.000 fielding percentage in 13 games at second base.
Taylor spent significant time working at third base this spring — before that, he’d only played two games at the corner in his pro career.
“The biggest adjustment is the positioning, I think,” Taylor said. “Understanding where to be and you have to know the hitters — who can bunt, who can run and playing off the line. And then learning the shifts. That’s been the biggest thing.
“I know where I have to be on cuts, but it’s one thing to know it and it’s another thing to react to it. In the middle infield, it’s kind of natural reaction where I have to go, where at third I might have to think about it a split second longer.”
Taylor will get the opportunity to fine-tune all of these things in Tacoma. The Rainiers open their season on April 7 when they host a four-game series against Albuquerque.
“Adding depth defensively is going to help anybody,” Taylor said. “It gives you more opportunities to play different spots. There’s a lot of competition in this organization; we’ve got a lot of good guys, so being able to play as many positions as you can, can only be a good thing.”
Servais said Taylor will split time moving around the infield with O’Malley.
“It will be balanced some,” Servais said. “Chris will get the majority of the reps at short, but O’Malley will play some short, too. Chris needs to play second and third. Maybe even some first base. Maybe he runs into left field once in a while.”
Taylor will continue to retool his swing at the same time. He hit .300 in 86 games with Tacoma last season, but hit .170 (16 for 94) in two stints with Seattle that stretched over 37 games.
“It feels really close, but I haven’t quite seen it in the game yet,” Taylor said.
With some retooling ahead, he might be as focused as ever.
“Some players are just wired that way,” Servais said. “I think that’s kind of how I played. Looking back at my career, I wish I would have smiled more, wish I would have had more fun. So, hopefully, I will stay on him about smiling.”
Some positive production in the season’s opening stretch could do a lot to get a smile to spread across Taylor’s face.
“If I do something good, I’ll smile,” he said. “If I hit a ball well, get a hit, you might catch a quick smile from me.”
Just a quick one — for now, anyway.