When the Washington Nationals failed to land a center fielder at the 2011 Trade Deadline, Nats' GM Mike Rizzo talked to reporters about having players in the organization who could potentially play the position down the road once they were more fully developed.
One player, identified by MLB.com's Bill Ladson at the time as the player Rizzo was referring to, was 2009 6th Round pick Michael Taylor, a then-20-year-old, 6'3'', 210 pound, right-handed hitting and throwing center fielder out of the Westminster Academy in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Taylor played at Low-A Hagerstown that season, putting up a .253/.310/.432 line with 26 doubles, seven triples, 13 HRs and 23 stolen bases in 126 games and 488 plate appearances for the Suns over which he took 32 walks and K'd 120 times.
Even after the Nationals acquired Denard Span in the late November, 2012 trade with the Minnesota Twins, Rizzo talked about the deal being a move that would help bridge the gap to the next wave of outfield prospects like Taylor and 2011 1st Round pick Brian Goodwin, who could take over in center field in the nation's capital at some point in the future.
"We think we've got guys in the system that fill this role," Rizzo told reporters, "but they're years away. They're in the pipeline and we're looking for big things from them down the road."
While Span patrolled center in 2013, Taylor was in his second season at High-A Potomac.
After posting a .242/.318/.362 line with 33 doubles, two triples, three home runs, 19 steals, 40 walks and 113 Ks in 109 games and 431 plate appearances for the P-Nats in 2012, Taylor improved to .263/.340/.426 with 41 doubles, six triples, 10 HRs, 51 steals, 55 walks and 131 Ks in 133 games and 581 PAs in 2013.
This year, the now-23-year-old outfielder made the jump to Double-A Harrisburg.
Through 75 games and 331 PAs this season, Taylor has broken out, with 13 doubles, two triples, 17 HRs, 22 SBs, 37 walks, 98 Ks and a .333/.413/.569 line thus far in 2014. This week, he was named to the U.S. Roster for the All-Star Futures Game, joining the Nats' no.1 overall prospect Lucas Giolito as Washington's only two representatives in the prospect showcase which takes place as part of the MLB All-Star Game festivities.
Taylor told MLB Network Radio host Grant Paulsen this morning, in an interview on Paulsen's show Minors and Majors, that he learned he was selected for the Futures game from Harrisburg Senators' skipper Brian Daubach.
"We were in Richmond and he called me into the office and gave me the news," Taylor recalled.
"I was very excited. It's definitely very cool and something I'm looking forward to, something that we all watch on tv and this is actually my first all-star game so it's pretty exciting for me."
Taylor was asked what changed this season that has allowed him to take another step in his development.
"It's been kind of a different season for me," he said, "and I've been working on a few things. Still working on a lot and trying to cut down on the strikeouts. I'd probably say I'm proudest of my two-strike approach, and it's been kind of rough but at the same time I've learned a lot and trying to grow on that."
"It's definitely a mindset thing, going up there with an approach," Taylor said, talking about his focus on hitting in two-strike counts, "but I think mainly it's just trusting it and knowing that with two strikes you can still get to any pitch and try to just protect."
Hitting with two strikes is one of several things Taylor said he's still working on as he continues to develop his game.
He's focused on just keeping his approach at the plate consistent, knowing that if he does, some hits will leave the yard and he said he's also working on using his speed in all aspects of his game.
"I think the power is something that's just going to happen," he said. "It's not something that I go out there and try to hit home runs, but definitely the speed is something that I take pride in and I try to go out there and go gap-to-gap and go get some balls and run the bases aggressively."
Though he's already hit more home runs this season than in any of his previous minor league campaigns, he's also hitting for average and Taylor explained that he knows he can't go to the plate just looking to hit them out.
"It's something that if you give in to and you try to hit home runs you rarely get the results that you want," Taylor told Paulsen, "so you kind of just have to stick to your approach and stay up the middle and just let it happen."
As good as he's been offensively, he's played great defensively this season as well, with a .996 fld%, nine outfield assists and just one error in 71 games.
Taylor was clear, however, that he thinks he has a lot of room for growth.
At the plate, Taylor said he was focused on, "... putting the ball in play more consistently, making hard contact early in the count and then when I do get to two strikes, just sticking to my approach and trying to be comfortable hitting with two strikes and knowing that I can still do damage with two strikes."
Defensively, Taylor explained, he's, "... nowhere near a finished product. It's something that I still work on and try to take pride in and try to go out there and work on the little details every day. There's always something that you can get better at."
As a non-roster invitee at Spring Training this season, Taylor actually had the chance to work alongside Denard Span and learn from the Nationals' leadoff man and center fielder.
"I enjoyed watching Denard Span," Taylor said. "I got a chance to work pretty closely with him and watch him go about his business and the way he did the drills and I appreciated the way that he worked even at the level that he's at and playing in the big leagues for so long, he still goes out there and gets after it, so to speak, just working hard and I really appreciated that."
"He was very helpful," Taylor continued. "I was able to ask him questions and kind of pick his brain a little bit and see what he thinks in certain situations."
The 5-year/$16.5M extension Span signed with Minnesota in 2010 includes a $9M club option for 2015 or a $500K buyout.
Will Taylor or Brian Goodwin be ready to take over in center in 2015? Will the Nationals risking going with a rookie center fielder while trying to compete for a postseason berth? Will Span be back as the Nats' prospects continue to develop?
The Nationals have some tough decisions to make this winter.