Sophomore finds his way as Aztec's young leader

Karl Schneider
Aztec's Zach Taylor hits an RBI single against Kirtland Central on Saturday in Kirtland.

FARMINGTON — Over the past couple of seasons, Aztec shortstop Zach Taylor has been groomed for a leadership role with the Tigers.

Taylor may only be a sophomore, but he brings about as much varsity experience as anyone else on the roster and spent countless hours learning from last season's team captain — his older brother Jake.

Taylor broke into the Tiger lineup as an eighth-grader, playing 19 games at second base.

As an eighth-grader and freshman, Zach and Jake made a formidable duo in the middle of the infield for the Tigers. But with Jake's graduation in 2016, Zach shifted to the other side of second base to play shortstop this season.

Playing with Jake, who now plays for Concordia University in Seward, Neb., showed Zach the ins and outs of the position, and this year, Zach began recreating the great plays Jake routinely made for Aztec.

"I learned so much. Every practice my brother would teach me stuff," Taylor said. "Now, every time I do something right at shortstop, I think, 'Jake taught me that.'"

Aztec's Zach Taylor turns a double play against Piedra Vista on April 11, 2016, at the Aztec High School baseball field.

With Jake and the rest of the 2016 seniors graduated, the Tigers were left with a hole in leadership, and Taylor was quick — probably too quick — to try to pick up the slack.

"He probably took on too much responsibility early and was trying too hard," Aztec coach Wes Laplatt said. "Now, he's settling in and enjoying the game instead of pressing. He was really pressing, but now he's starting to feel better and realizing he doesn't have to carry us because we're a team."

Through the first half of the season the Tigers struggled to find consistency. They'd play well for a few games, then lose a few games in a row. The ups and downs of the season were due in part to the Tigers trying to find their identity as a team. Taylor said during the first part of the season he was trying to recreate the culture from past seasons when his brother was a leader on the team.

"I think at the beginning of the year, I was trying to fill the shoes of my brother a little bit," Taylor said. "I think I just realized that everybody on the team can do what I can do. Everybody is capable of doing good stuff for us."

While he's still figuring out what kind of leader he'll be for the Tigers, Taylor is doing everything he can to make sure his production on the field is as high as possible.

Before classes at Aztec High get started every morning, Taylor meets with the Tigers' infield coach to run drills, and Laplatt said that work is staring to pay dividends on the field.

"His hands have really improved, he's taking better routes to the ball and he's growing," Laplatt said. "He's going to be really good to have for a couple more years."

Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.