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Taylor Motter is Mr. Versatility

New to Triple-A, Motter embraces utility role
May 14, 2015

Ben Zobrist is one of the most beloved players in the history of the Tampa Bay Rays organization. Over parts of nine seasons with Tampa Bay he was a two-time All-Star, while playing over 150 games each season from 2014. Perhaps what he was best-know for though, was his ability to play all over the field to provide the team flexibility, while making sure he stayed in the lineup.

In 2015, Durham Bulls fans might be seeing the next coming of Zobrist, and his name is Taylor Motter.

Over the 25-year-old's first 27 games in 2015, he'd already started at least four games in centerfield, rightfield, third base and second base, while batting in six different positions in the lineup.

After he was drafted in the 17th round of the 2011 draft out of Coastal Carolina University, he spent the rest of that summer playing third base and shortstop, his natural positions, with the Rookie-level Princeton Rays in the Appalachian League. It wasn't until the following season with Single-A Bowling Green that the Florida native began his transition to learning the outfield, starting 53 games for the Hot Rods in the outfield, and 30 games between third base, second base and first base.

"I love it," Motter said of his transition to a utility man. "It just means I have seven positions I can make it to the big leagues at."

Motter's thoughts of the big leagues aren't far away. All players on the major league 40-man roster will go to "Big League" camp during Spring Training, along with free agent signings and young prospects that aren't on the team's 40-man roster. This season, Motter reported to camp with Evan Longoria, Alex Cobb and James Loney as a "non-roster invite," which is the term used for those players not on the 40-man roster.

"It was eye-opening. Humbling," he said of his first major league Spring Training experience. "You try to describe it, what it was like, and it's hard. It's something I've been striving for my whole life, and knowing that I'm one step away and I was there during Spring Training, it's just mind-blowing to me."

Motter's invitation came on the heels of a strong 2014 campaign with Double-A Montgomery, that saw him set career-highs in games (119), runs (60), hits (124), doubles (19), home runs (16) and RBIs (61). Most surprising were the right-handed hitter's power numbers, as he had hit just 13 homers in 219 career games entering the season.

"With my approach last year, the homers just happened," he said. "My weight program was a little bit different in the offseason, and the way my approach was my swing just felt really, really good all year last year."

While his success at the plate helped garner him Midseason and Postseason Southern League All-Star honors, his defense was strong as well, splitting time between 91 starts in the outfield and 27 starts in the infield. Despite playing just 65% of the Biscuits' games in the outfield, Motter still recorded 24 outfield assists, coming one shy of setting the league record set in 1967.

"I always thought that I had a little bit of an above-average arm, and I like to throw guys out and I wasn't afraid to throw and it just happened to work out," Motter said. "I back-picked a couple guys at second base here and there, threw a couple guys out at first here and there and deked a couple guys and threw them out at third. Once the season came to an end you start looking at that stuff and it was higher than what I even thought it was."

Coming off a strong season for Montgomery expectations were high for Motter, and he struggled in the season's early going. Through his first 14 games he had tallied just eight hits, posting a .157 average through his first two weeks in Triple-A.

"Double-A I had one of my best years ever," he said. "It was fun to play, I enjoyed showing up to the park every day, and when you show up in your first couple games in Triple-A and you strike out three times and you go 0-for-whatever it was, it's tough. You start wondering and thinking if you can hang with these guys and if you're going to keep getting the opportunities to do it."

On April 27th at Lehigh Valley though, the first game of a seven-game road trip, Motter began to turn it around and show the player he really is. He went on to hit safely in six of the seven games on that road swing, batting .323 over that stretch while scoring five times.

"I just woke up one morning and said stuff can't get any worse," the former Chanticleer said. "I said let's try to be the same guy throughout the whole day. I tinkered with this and that and things just finally started turning around."

Another change Motter made after the first few weeks of the season was his attitude and outlook. The youngster is known around the clubhouse as one of the more relaxed players on the team, and has been known as a loose player throughout his career. But to start the campaign, he was getting away from what made him successful in the past.

"I think having fun is a huge part of my game," he said. "I think I got away from that the first couple of games. I wanted to be Mr. Serious, Mr. Show Everybody What I Can Do instead of being me. And me is to be funny and play hard and have a good time doing it, not being Mr. Serious and taking everything I do serious. Everything for me is, do it with a smile, have a good time doing it and then good things will happen."

Following his blueprint, good things have happened to Motter on the field throughout his entire career. As a senior in high school he hit .402 and was a First Team All-Area selection, then as a freshman at Coastal Carolina he was a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American when he played in all 63 of the team's games, batting .286. In all he was a career .303 hitter over three seasons at Coastal, and in his first foray into professional baseball he batted .323 with Princeton, earning Appalachian League Postseason All-Star honors.

"I think I've been the same guy throughout my whole career, from high school, college, coming up through the Rays organization," he said. "It's always just been: have a good time because one day this is all going to end and it's going to have to be serious sooner or later. The more I can come out here and have fun with my guys and enjoy the time being out here I'm going to. We're playing a game for a living, so let's not look past that and enjoy it."

Once Motter found got back to his roots over that seven-game road trip through Lehigh Valley and Pawtucket, he hasn't slowed down. From May 5 through May 10 he scored in six straight games, while tallying a pair of three hit contests over that stretch. All the while he's continued to bounce around the field, starting 15 games in the outfield and 11 games in the infield over his first 26 starts. And that's just fine with Motter.

"With my personality and the way I am, playing one position just gets boring," he said. "I'm going to come out, take ground balls at third, short, first, second, then centerfield, leftfield, rightfield and be happy about it. I don't have to go through the monotony of one position every day. I can do something different every day if I want to and it's awesome."