Taylor on path to be Nats' center fielder of future
Defensive whiz finished strong at the plate in Class A Hagerstown
WASHINGTON -- After he was unable to acquire a center fielder before the non-waiver Trade Deadline, general manager Mike Rizzo said that the Nationals have a player who will be their center fielder of the future.
While he didn't name the player, the person that Rizzo was referring to was Michael Taylor, a sixth-round pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. Taylor, the best defensive center fielder in the farm system, played for Class A Hagerstown this past season, hitting .253 with 13 home runs and 68 RBIs.
While the numbers don't look impressive, Taylor, 20, has come a long way from the start of the season. Earlier in the season, the Nationals thought about demoting him to rookie ball after he started off slow. While no one approached him about a possible demotion, Taylor had a feeling that he might be sent down, and his intuition made it worse for him while he was in the batter's box.
"I had a feeling that it could happen, that it could be coming," Taylor said in a phone interview. "I almost think that it kind of made it worse. Then I wanted to press even more and do even better."
But thanks to the guidance of manager Brian Daubach and hitting coach Marlon Anderson, Taylor had a renewed confidence at the plate, and it showed during the second half of the season. Taylor said it helped that Daubach continued to put him in the lineup.
"Putting me in the lineup spoke volumes," Taylor said. "[Daubach] didn't have to say too much. If I had an 0-for-4 day, he would put me back in the lineup the next day. Marlon was in the cage working on stuff. He was always very positive. He wasn't trying to recreate anything in my swing. He talked to me more about the mental side, and that really helped."
After hitting .214 before the All-Star break, Taylor hit .291 with a .351 on-base percentage during the second half of the season. Taylor said that the biggest change was being relaxed at the plate.
"In the first half I was a little anxious, trying to do too much," Taylor said. "Once I kind of let go of those things and just relaxed, it really helped me."
Taylor also had to make a position switch. He was drafted as a shortstop and had dreams of becoming another Derek Jeter. It was more than just Jeter's abilities that impressed Taylor.
"I was most impressed with the way he carried himself on and off the field," Taylor said. "You never hear anything negative about him in the press or anything like that. He seems like a very good person."
In his first year of pro ball, Taylor didn't come close to playing like his baseball idol. He made a combined 23 errors in 40 games for Hagerstown and the Gulf Coast Nationals.
"I wasn't able to adjust to the game speed," Taylor said in regards to his defense. "It's a lot quicker than high school. I wasn't able to transfer it [to professional baseball]."
Before the start of the 2011 season, the organization made a decision to put Taylor in the outfield, and he is often compared to Orioles outfielder Adam Jones.
"The outfield has always been something I enjoyed," Taylor said. "I just have fun going out there, running fly balls down. That's what I try to do out there, just have fun."
According to bench coach Pat Corrales, Taylor could be 2 1/2 years away from the big leagues.
"He was a shortstop and not very good," Corrales said. "The decision was made to put him in the outfield, and he took to it just like you wouldn't believe. He has outstanding range -- going back, going in, going to the sides. Now he is starting to believe he can hit. Michael Taylor is going to be a good baseball player. He is a fine young man.
"He is playing more at ease. It is starting to show with the bat. He is a plus player. He is 20 years old, and in a couple more years he is going to be on the verge of pushing somebody."
As for Taylor, he is not predicting when he will reach the big leagues.
"As far as the timeline, I try not to focus on that," Taylor said. "I just go at it day by day and try to get better, and not think about projections. Ultimately, it's how I play on the field."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.