Back in October of 2011, after a then-20-year-old Michael Taylor put together a .253/.310/.432, 26 double, seven triple, 13 home run, 23 steal, 32 walk, 120 K campaign in 126 games and 488 plate appearances for the Low-A Hagerstown Suns, nationals.com writer Bill Ladson wrote about the 2009 6th Round pick, who was drafted as a shortstop out of high school in Fort Lauderdale, FL, as a potential future center fielder in the nation's capital. Already a strong defender, Taylor was successful at the plate in the second-half that summer, hitting, ".291 with a .351 on-base percentage," after a rough start to his second full season in the Nats' system.
Baseball America named Taylor the Best Athlete and Best Defensive Outfielder in the Nationals' organization after the 2011 season. In 2012, at High-A Potomac, Taylor put up a .242/.318/.362 line with 33 doubles, two triples, three home runs, 19 stolen bases, 40 walks and 113 Ks in 109 games and 431 PAs for the P-Nats.
Baseball America recognized Taylor for having the Best Outfield Arm and being the Best Defensive OF in the Nats' system for the second straight year.
That winter, the Nationals acquired Denard Span from the Minnesota Twins. In talking about filling a need in center field at the major league level, Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo told reporters that Span also bridged a gap to the next generation of outfielders in Washington.
"We think we've got guys in the system that fill this role," Rizzo explained, "But they're years away. They're in the pipeline and we're looking for big things from them down the road."
Following a 2013 season which saw him post a .263/.340/.426 line with 41 doubles, six triples, ten home runs, 51 stolen bases, 55 walks and 131 Ks in 133 games and 581 PAs in his second go-round at Potomac, the now-22-year-old Taylor was ranked 7th overall in the Nats' system by Baseball America, behind only 23-year-old 2011 1st Round pick Brian Goodwin amongst outfield prospects in the organization.
After his fourth minor league season, Taylor played for the Indios de Mayaguez in the Liga de Beisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente in Puerto Rico, putting up a .365/.428/.511 line with seven doubles, two triples, three home runs, three steals, 13 walks and 38 Ks in 36 games.
The Nationals added Taylor to the 40-Man roster in November of 2013, protecting the outfielder from selection in the Rule 5 Draft and ensuring that he would be in camp with the big league team at the start of Spring Training.
New Nats' skipper Matt Williams said today he's eager to see what the young outfielder can do once they start playing games. "He is, I think, really unique in that he is a -- if you were putting scouting numbers on him, he is an 80 defender," Williams told reporters. "He throws very well. He's in the process of learning himself and his own swing and he would be a guy that is potentially on the fast track.
"Now, of course, there's a lot of variables there and a lot of things that could sideline that track sometimes, slumps and things like that, but all the tools are there, those tools are certainly present for all us to see at this point. I want to get a chance to see him play in games when the other team has got a different uniform on and watch him do that."
Assistant GM and VP of Player Development Doug Harris told MLB Network Radio hosts Jim Duquette and Mike Ferrin this morning that Taylor's continued to impress everyone who sees him play.
"Michael has come a long way," Harris said. "He's a guy that didn't play a lot of baseball prior to coming into pro baseball and was a position-change guy. Really blossomed defensively early on. Had a really strong year for us last year. Made some significant adjustments with regard to his approach. Went to Puerto Rico this winter and really had a great winter ball and is in a good place and looking to continue that this year."
The good reports on Taylor have made their way to Matt Williams' ear.
"Everything that I've heard from our staff, from the minor league staff, and everybody that has seen him play is he's a pretty incredible defender in center field," Williams said.
The first-year skipper wants to see the outfielder's defense in person.
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"You get some adrenaline going out there and you get him in a major league game in Spring Training and he goes and gets a ball, I think we'll see that pretty quick," he said. "So, all those things combined, the tools are certainly there and it's about his progression and moving towards being ready to play in the big leagues, but from all indications he's on a pretty fast track."
The fact that he's a defense-first outfielder right now could work to his advantage as well, should the Nationals have to reach down for help at some point in the future.
"It's the old adage that, 'Defense never slumps,' right?" Williams asked rhetorically. "So that's key, that's big. If in fact, we knock wood every time we say it, but if in fact something happens and you lose somebody for a two-week period or a month period, as an example, then you have somebody that is able to come in and step in and play defense at a high level, then you feel better about that as opposed to having someone that's an offensive player, because ultimately pitching and defense wins you games."
"So," Williams said, continuing the hypothetical discussion, "if he's not as good an offensive player at that time as the guy you lost, potentially, then you're okay still because that guy can go get'em. He can defend. He can help your team win in that regard. So, defense never slumps, and he's one of those unique guys that, like you said, if you [put] him in a major league game right now he would stand out. So I can't wait to see that. I want to witness that."