In 2020, 6-4-3 DP Baseball decided to begin sharing insightful and inspiring content with current players to aid in the process of player development. Our hope is that learning from others will help current 6-4-3 players and families in tangible ways both on and off the baseball field.
Today, with great pride, we share the journey and development of one of 6-4-3’s impressive alums, Carson Taylor (6-4-3 Class of 2018). Carson is a special young man and supremely talented student-athlete whose baseball development story is interwoven with setbacks, unexpected challenges, and bouts with adversity on his path to achieving excellence at the college level. Carson’s personal story offers insight for others how to successfully navigate challenging times as a youth baseball player and how to achieve at a high level. With the current hiatus from sports competition amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, now is an opportune time to share Carson’s story.
2020 was Carson’s sophomore season as a standout catcher, first baseman and designated hitter for the Virginia Tech Hokies. In 16 games, Carson posted a .431 batting average, 1.231 OPS, .541 on-base percentage, and .690 slugging percentage. Carson was named to the 2020 Buster Posey National Collegiate Catcher of the Year watch list. Over the 16 games played before the season was cut short, Carson’s strong productivity at the plate earned him presence in thirteen categories of the NCAA’s 2020 Individual Rankings for offense: 27th in on-base percentage, 32nd in batting average, 34th in doubles, 35th in RBI, 37th in RBI per game (1.25), 45th in runs per game (1.19), 49th in runs, 50th in hits, 59th in doubles per game (0.44), 64th in slugging percentage, 69th in hits per game (1.56), 70th in total bases and 81st in toughest to strikeout (11.6 per at-bat, just five times). In addition, D1baseball.com named Carson the most impressive hitter in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Today, Carson was named a 2020 Collegiate Baseball NCAA Division I Third Team All-American.
Having his sophomore season cut short (along with countless other college athletes) is not Carson’s first encounter with adversity and disappointment. In fact, Carson has successfully conquered setbacks and challenges on his journey to becoming an outstanding college baseball player.
- Over a simple post-game meal at Dairy Queen with his dad during his freshman year in high school, 15-year-old Carson wondered out loud if he belonged on the varsity baseball team in Austin, Texas. With the support and thoughtful counsel of his mother and father (Ashley and Jeff Taylor), Carson determined the next day that he was going to carry himself differently and trust that he did belong on the field with the most talented players. And he most certainly did belong on that field.
- As an 11-year-old, Carson played with 6-4-3 DP Baseball’s 11U Cougars before his family moved to Texas. Prior to his sophomore summer as a 16U player, Carson and family decided to move back to Georgia. Luckily for 6-4-3, Carson returned to the organization and joined the 16U Jaguars squad under the strong leadership of head coach Rick Mang. Although joining the team in unexpected fashion (roster opening due to injury) Carson made an immediate and significant impact amidst a whirlwind of change. Carson was named Offensive Player of the Year that season for the 16U Jaguars. In addition, Carson was named to the 2016 6-4-3 All-Offensive Team – an honor highlighting the best players from across the entire organization.
- As a 17U player during his junior year summer, Carson found himself in an unexpected situation where he chose to reopen his recruitment process. With the support of 17U Cougars head coach Danny Pralgo and his devoted parents, Carson started his recruitment process all over again. Despite facing great uncertainty and the fear of losing the opportunity to play D-I college baseball (his literal athletic dream), Carson rather quickly earned a great opportunity for himself with the Virginia Tech baseball program.
- As a freshman at Virginia Tech, Carson started in 36 games as a heart of the lineup switch-hitter but was abruptly sidelined after being hit in the hand while batting. The injury broke the hamate bone in his throwing hand and later required surgery to repair the break. The injury sidelined Carson and also threatened his debut in the Cape Cod League during the summer of 2019. However, through grit and determination, Carson made it to the Cape.
- After attacking his physical therapy routine after his hamate bone surgery, Carson arrived late to the Cape Cod League and got off to a slow start. With only three live BP sessions since surgery, Carson experienced an 0-14 start at the plate. Carson naturally experienced some self-doubt. This was not how Carson envisioned his time in the Cape (another childhood baseball dream) would play out. Note: In his 15th at-bat, Carson hit a 3-run bomb and got back in rhythm.
- As a sophomore catcher and middle-of-the-lineup bat for the Virginia Tech Hokies in 2020, Carson was having a tremendous start to the spring season. After only 16 games, the ACC season was cut short due to the Coronavirus outbreak and Carson returned home. But in only 16 games, Carson made a loud statement with his outstanding play.
L-R: Rick Mang, Carson Taylor and Danny Pralgo. Photo credit: Ashley and Jeff Taylor
Confirmed by his loving parents, Jeff and Ashley Taylor, Carson is built for excellence as well as dealing with adversity. Carson is hard-working. Carson is focused. Carson is open to learning how to get better as a person and as a baseball player. Carson is confident in himself and his abilities. Carson knows the value of a strong support system. As proven by his track record at Virginia Tech, Carson also has elite abilities on the diamond. These attributes, both present and ever-evolving in Carson, have enabled him to not only endure adverse situations in his athletic pursuits, but also to sharpen his abilities by going through the adversity itself.
Three coaches (and likely many more) know the realities of Carson’s winning personality and dominant baseball skills. Virginia Tech’s head baseball coach, John Szefc, shared his impression of Carson as a recruit. “Carson was a strong switch hitter with definite defensive abilities from a prime area (Atlanta) that was also a very good student. He came from a great family too. Carson had lots of boxes checked (as a recruit),” said Szefc. When asked to describe Carson in just a few words, Danny Pralgo (Carson’s 17U coach with 6-4-3) quickly offered “driven, confident, genuine, teammate, accountable, and family.” When asked to do the same, Rick Mang (Carson’s 16U coach with 6-4-3) described Carson with “humble, conscientious, relentless, intense and smile.” Coach Szefc added, “consistent, low maintenance, unique (as in a true switch hitter), versatile and pleasant (as in a nice person to be around).” All three coaches also commented on Carson’s advanced physical ability on the field and his confidence in that ability.
Carson Taylor suited up for the Hokies. Photo credit: Virginia Tech Athletics
6-4-3’s David Carr had the pleasure of interviewing Carson and his parents, Ashley and Jeff. Listed below are questions from the interview and excerpts of the thoughtful and honest answers given by Carson and family.
You committed to a school prior to your junior season of high school but had to re-evaluate the opportunity due to unexpected personnel changes at the college (two baseball coaches left, and the athletic director resigned). What was that process like?
Carson: What Dad won't necessarily mention, but I can say is that I was about as scared as I have ever been about something while making that decision. Because I kind of felt the same way as he did at the time. I've got this opportunity in-hand already. Do I really want to go through with this, and do I want to really make this decision? The biggest fear was losing out on a dream. Knowing that I had the opportunity to fulfill one of my biggest dreams that I've had as a child…in-hand…and kind of basically giving that up…going back into the unknown. It's the betting on yourself. That's kind of what it came to. I had to basically bet on myself. So that's kind of what I decided…that I was going to bet on myself and bet that it would be the right decision.
Jeff/Dad: We had some long, emotional discussions in our house about what to do. To his credit, Carson was confident and committed that it was no longer the right place for him. I was the ‘bird in the hand’ guy going ‘you‘ve got a chance to play Division I baseball, you've got a scholarship offer, and your about to be a high school senior.’ Being committed as a high school senior you’ve got the gentlemen's agreement in baseball circles where you stop talking to other schools and the other coaches stop calling you. So now Carson has been off the market for a year too. I am going, ‘this is not good from a timing perspective.’ But to his credit Carson said, “Dad I feel good about this, I have thought about it, prayed about it and I'm comfortable in making this decision.” But we all knew it wasn't like there were 20 new suitors knocking at the door. We were starting (the process) all over again.
Ashley/Mom: Going through all of that (re-opening his recruitment) with Carson was stressful and emotional. Ultimately, Jeff and I came to the conclusion that this had to be Carson’s success or Carson’s regret. It needed to be his choice. If there was a regret involved, it needed to be his regret. What ultimately got us all over the decision-making process was that he was so adamant. One of the great things coming out of this tough process was to see how confident and sure Carson was in himself.
Jeff/Dad: I think what you will hear probably throughout this whole interview that betting on himself is probably the thing that drove Carson through each of the adverse moments in his life.
You are a 17-year-old kid and you are worried about your dream of playing big-time college baseball not working out. You have just made a big decision the night before to reopen your college recruitment. How did you get through that tournament week much less that first day? What allowed you to focus on competing on the field?
Carson: That's a good question. That's the most relaxed I think I've ever been playing baseball. It was a weird feeling you know…a feeling you get when you know you made the right decision whether it doesn't sound like it at the time. I had the feeling that my decision was right, and I was 100% confident to go forward. That confidence led to the confidence of believing in myself and believing that I was going to be successful that day and week…and believing that it was all going to work itself out. So, I just let my mind and focus drift to baseball and kept the worry of recruiting and everything out of it. I was just trying to enjoy the game of baseball knowing that it is the sport I've loved since the age of three when I picked up a baseball for the first time. I just tried to have fun…and it worked.
What was the recruiting process like after Carson made his decision?
Ashley/Mom: Carson always turns his phone off when he plays. After Carson’s decision to reopen his college recruitment on the night before the 17U Perfect Game WWBA National Championship tournament started, Jeff and I were talking and we asked, ‘What happens if that phone doesn't ring?’ I said, ‘Well, then we deal with that.’ So, Carson comes home that night, turns his phone on and he has a ridiculous number of voicemails. I can remember looking at Jeff and saying, ‘Well, the phone rang!’ I have to say that day might be the most nervous I had ever been watching my son play.
What allowed you to make an immediate impression and impact on the diamond at Virginia Tech as a freshman?
Carson: I was lucky enough to have some older guys at Virginia Tech who took me under their wing. Specifically, a kid by the name of Luke Horanski, who caught last year, was vital in bringing me along with him. Also, Coach Szefc always preaches he wants players that are low maintenance…that kind of just put their head down and get after it basically. So that's kind of what I did. I've always prided myself in the fact that when a situation arises, or I need to do something to prove myself, I'm just going to put my head down and work…do whatever it takes to kind of open that door. That approach came in the form of: I did all kinds of extra work, I was early to meetings, I was constantly getting feedback from the coaching staff, I did my best to be invested in my teammates, and bought into the program the coaching staff was selling. Obviously, it also helped that I produced in the fall. Through the feedback I got from coaches, I proved that all the work I was putting in had gotten me ready (in their minds). Based on the impact I made in the fall, Coach Szefc told me that I forced him to put me in the lineup. I made it to where he could not keep me out of it. Coach told me I convinced him through the way I worked, the way I handled myself, by being very mature for a first year kid and proving that now I can handle all the craziness that comes along with being an ACC baseball player, and by proving that I belonged alongside the older guys. Then, that (proving that I belonged) obviously carried into the spring season, and, at that point, I was just having fun playing baseball. I was also just enjoying all that comes along with that…you know the highs and lows and all the craziness that comes with a season…learning what comes with being a freshman and going through that learning curve of being an ACC player.
Jeff/Dad: Prior to coming to Virginia Tech, Coach Szefc likes his hitters go off and play in a collegiate summer league to get some exposure to college level pitching, the pace of the college game, college level coaches, and being in front of bigger fanbases. The development idea is that you almost have a season under your belt coming into college. In Carson's case he was lucky to go play for the Bethesda Big Train in the Cal Ripken League…one of the best teams in that competitive league. He had a great season offensively. He was named most outstanding player in the All-Star game. He played for Sal Colangelo who was a great, seasoned manager. The other coaches were fantastic with him too knowing that they were dealing with a kid who literally graduated high school about a week prior. That experience I think was a mammoth confidence boost for Carson going into the fall of his freshman year.
What feelings did you experience when you broke your hand facing Georgia Tech’s Brant Hurter (6-4-3 Class of 2017) after 36 games into your freshman season?
Carson: Obviously, I was really disappointed when I learned my hand was broken and required surgery. And, unfortunately, I was moping around for a few days. It took me a few days to move on from the disappointment honestly. But over time it was a really good perspective thing for me. I was able to look at baseball in a different light because I had really been focusing on it as a player and as somebody who had been actively involved every day…until the injury. Now I had to find a new way to contribute to the team and to invest in the team, and for me that was to be the best teammate I possibly could. I really tried to support my other teammates and be there for them no matter what. The shift in perspective showed me to never take the sport for granted. It got taken away from me in the snap of a finger basically.
What kept you focused while dealing with the hardship of breaking your hand? What drove you during your healing, rehab, and recovery?
Carson: The hand injury just made me hungry and made me want it (baseball) more. It (injury) made me want to do everything in my power to get back out on the field next season. The season being cut short made me want to get back out on the field as fast as possible…made me want to continue to work as hard as humanly possible to keep getting better each time I step foot on the field.
Jeff/Dad: Before Carson had the surgery, he had phone calls with the manager of the YD Red Sox in the Cape Cod League and met with Dr. Gary Lourie who performed the surgery here in Atlanta. Dr. Lourie laid out a rehab timeline for Carson and said, “Well, if you do everything I ask of you, if the surgery goes well, and if you do the rehab the way I tell you to do the rehab, here's when I think you should be ready to play again.” And his manager in the Cape Cod League said, “If you can be ready by that day (which basically would have given him effectively the last month of the summer), I'll still let you come up here and play.” As his dad, I think that little carrot being dangled out in front of him is wholeheartedly what drove Carson’s rehab process…because he wanted to get up there so badly to play and to show others what he can do on the field.
Tell me about your Cape Cod League experience.
Carson: I got off to an 0-14 start. I was not striking out, but I was not happy with my performance. I was frustrated. I started asking myself, ‘Why did I decide to come up here? I shouldn’t be here basically. I should still be recovering at my house.’ But in my 15th at-bat I hit a 3-run homerun, and I was better at the plate for the remainder of the month.
Overall, it was a really good experience for me. My time in the Cape taught me a ton. One of the biggest things was learning to alter my work habits. I have always had the label of being a hard-working player. I was blessed enough to watch a lot of guys in the Cape that had a ton of success up there. I watched them find ways to get better even while they were successful. They kept trying to improve. That stuck with me.
I also realized that if I was going to prove to myself that I belonged up there, I needed to have an unshakeable belief in myself…unshakeable confidence in myself. No matter how bad the situation was, I trusted that I could handle it. I belong on any field with any players. There isn’t a field that I don’t belong on…and I can be successful on any field.
Jeff/Dad: Carson was dealing with adversity as soon as he got up there because the timeline was so accelerated for the physical therapy (on his hand) to happen in order to get cleared to start doing things like swinging a bat again. His hand injury occurred in late April. But it was a couple weeks later that the final diagnosis was determined. Unfortunately, surgery was not possible until after his academic finals in the end of May. After three months of healing and rehab, Carson had mere days to progress from dry swings, to tee work, to front toss, to hitting live. When you're getting ready to play your first game in the top collegiate summer ball program in the nation and to face pro level pitching, and all you've seen over the last three months is three rounds of live batting practice from your dad throwing…that’s not ideal.
What was the unexpected end of the 2020 season (due to Coronavirus pandemic) like for you?
Carson: Confusion at first. Coach gathered us and explained what he knew at the time which was a weekend series cancellation. Then the players met again as a group in the locker room. As players, we decided that we just needed to relax and wait for more information. But it was later that we got an understanding that the rest of the season was in jeopardy.
Once we knew the season was over, it was frustrating. For me, it was another season cut short…that’s two now. When I called my mom to share the news I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I did all this work…recovering from surgery…struggling with a slow start at the Cape…preparing myself for this year…and came out and got off to a really good start this season…only to have it taken away again by a global pandemic. I was frustrated and disappointed. It hurt. It really hurt that I didn’t get to finish the 2020 season.
The team had a called second meeting where the seniors got to speak and say goodbye. I quickly realized that my situation could be worse after sympathizing with the seniors’ reality. The whole ordeal opened my eyes to once again not taking things for granted…and making sure I savor and enjoy every moment of baseball.
What has dealing with adversity granted you as a person and as an athlete?
Ashley/Mom: I think you see a lightness about Carson when he's on the field now. I think he has a much broader perspective on what success looks like also.
Carson: It is hard to describe with words sometimes. It’s like that warm feeling when you were a kid and played the game of baseball with boyish enthusiasm and love of the sport. My perspective has shifted through the realization that this is a fun thing that I get to do. I don’t forget that anymore.
Ashley/Mom: As a family we have talked about how Carson’s journey through college baseball is not at all what we envisioned. However, every challenge that has come up we all feel like it has made Carson so much more prepared for the next level. His unique journey has made him better and has made him stronger physically and mentally. You would not choose this path, but it's been a blessing in many ways. This process…it's making him into who he needs to be to accomplish his goals and get to his dream.
Because of your experience with setbacks and adverse situations, how are you enhanced specifically as a player?
Carson: My work habits are improved as a hitter and catcher. But the biggest thing for me has been the added mental toughness. Coming through all these challenges, I feel that I can get through anything that happens you know…any struggles that I have either behind the plate or hitting. I know that I can and will push on through stuff (adversity or disappointment) and keep pushing myself to get better. I can and will keep building confidence even if I am maybe not as ‘successful’ as I had planned. I am much better now at finding the positives in the adversity that comes my way.
You are already a gifted college baseball player. After dealing with the various types of adversity in your developmental path, do you think you are a better player now?
Carson: I wholeheartedly believe that I am a vastly better baseball player now.
Getting to hit now or getting to catch now…how is that different for you versus two years ago?
Carson: Oh my gosh, now it's actually a privilege and pleasure to be able to get to play the sport I love. I really enjoy everything that I do through baseball now because I have learned that it (the opportunity to play) can be taken away from me.
What would you tell 16-year-old Carson/yourself if you could go back and explain what is to come in 2019 and 2020?
Carson: When self-doubt enters your thoughts and no matter what happens, tell yourself that you belong. You belong on this field. No matter what…you can handle it. The confidence in yourself has to be there.
What would you tell all the 11U, 13U, 15U, etc. players at 6-4-3 that are currently waiting with disappointment to get back on the field this season…or dealing with individual cases of adversity?
Carson: It is OK to be disappointed. Learn to savor the opportunity (playing baseball). Simply enjoy playing the sport of baseball and appreciate the opportunity. Believe in yourself and your preparation. Enjoy your teammates. Keep working to get better and have fun.
What are you doing now to stay sharp for your next season?
Carson: I am still focused despite the adverse circumstances. I set goals for the offseason. I am particularly focused on arm-strength improvement right now. I am following a schedule of work too. I do weight training 3x per week. I am working through a throwing program. I hit and do catching drills 3x per week also. My goal is to be a better baseball player coming out of this (hiatus) than I was coming into this.
What gives you peace during this anxious and uncertain time right now?
Carson: I think there is confidence in knowing that I have made it through tough times before. And that I have come out the other side even more successful than I was before. The hard work that I did to get myself through those adverse situations has allowed me to be more successful now than I was prior. I used the challenging times as a positive stepping-stone to help continue to grow as opposed to letting the negatives kind of pull me down.
Ashley/Mom: I think he has learned that he has a lot of support from people…not just us (his parents). I think he has learned to lean on lots of people, to ask for help, and express when he is frustrated or not. I think that is a huge part of his growing process. Carson was a different kid when he went back to school this year (2019). Partly, I think that he is not only internally, but also externally relying on and taking advantage of the resources that surround him.
Carson Taylor at the plate for 6-4-3. Photo credit: Ashley and Jeff Taylor
Carson has had a unique baseball journey from his years as a prep standout to a dominant college player. He has faced doubt, has navigated a recruitment that required a restart, has dealt with an injury and the pain that comes with it, has listened to doctors and attacked his rehabilitation to get to the Cape Cod League where he battled a slow start, and has dealt with the disappointment of a lost season. Through his adversity, Carson has emerged as a better baseball player and person. What comes next for Carson on his baseball journey? Will it be back to Blacksburg, Virginia, in August? Will it be back to the diamond for the Hokies? Will he be given the opportunity to play professionally? Whatever comes next for Carson, two things are apparent. He will be ready, and he will perform well. He likely will work through any next steps with faith, maturity beyond his years, and impressive confidence as he has done before. Also, he likely will allow himself to evolve into an even better version of himself…the ballplayer, the competitor, and the young man.
6-4-3 is incredibly fortunate to call Carson Taylor one of our own. It goes without saying that 6-4-3 is extremely proud of Carson. We are proud of his success at the college level and the example Carson has set for others. We are equally proud of how Carson navigated his development and journey as a student-athlete so far.
Carson Taylor behind the plate for 6-4-3. Photo credit: Ashley and Jeff Taylor