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Nationals' Michael Taylor not concerned with Nats' rumored pursuit of outfield bat

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Washington Nationals' center fielder Michael Taylor took over in the outfield sooner than expected when Denard Span was injured, but he learned on the job and impressed in his first full major league season. So what does the future hold for the 24-year-old?

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

For the twenty-four hours last week when it seemed possible the Washington Nationals might land free agent outfielder Jason Heyward with an offer that was believed to be worth around $200M, there was speculation about what the addition of the 26-year-old infielder would mean for the Nationals' outfield alignment.

Would Bryce Harper move to center? Would Heyward?

What about Michael Taylor? Would he be the Nats' fourth outfielder? What would such an acquisition mean for the Nationals' 24-year-old center fielder?

"He's got a speed, power, defensive skill set that's really exciting. We see him as a 20/20 capable guy that can really, really play defense in center field." -Mike Rizzo on Michael Taylor on MLB Network Radio

A day after the Nationals emerged as a potential landing spot, however, Heyward signed an 8-year/$184M deal with the Chicago Cubs and that discussion was put on pause.

So what did Taylor think of the deal Heyward got? Was he happy Heyward signed elsewhere?

"I'm happy for him," Taylor smiled. "He got a great contract."

Taylor wasn't supposed to start the season in the majors in 2015, but the injury issues Denard Span dealt with last winter and into Spring Training accelerated the Nationals' plan for Taylor.

Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo talked about speeding things up for Taylor in an MLB Network Radio interview earlier this month.

"We think that Michael Taylor came probably about four months earlier than we had planned for him," Rizzo said.

"We had Denard Span out in center field, going to be our everyday guy, but got hurt for most of the season and really threw Michael Taylor into the fire and for a guy that we thought was about three or four months ahead of schedule."

Taylor ended up putting up a .229/.282/.358 line, 15 doubles and 14 home runs in 511 plate appearances, finishing the year at 1.0 fWAR in 138 games.

"Really performed well," Rizzo said. "He's got a speed, power, defensive skill set that's really exciting. We see him as a 20/20 capable guy that can really, really play defense in center field."

Rizzo didn't deny, however, that the Nationals will continue to look at any and all options to improve the roster, as he explained last week at the Winter Meetings.

"There [are] a lot of things and possibilities that we can do via the free agent market and the trade market," he said.

"So we're going to see what fits for us nicely and what deals we can make. We're just out scouring and looking for players that help improve the roster and make us a championship-caliber club."

As he explained earlier this winter, he's comfortable going into the season with Jayson Werth, Taylor and Bryce Harper left-to-right around the outfield.

"He got some big hits throughout the season. I think that says a lot about a player too, how you hit with guys on base. How you hit in big situations." -Jayson Werth on Michael Taylor in 2015

Werth talked this weekend about being impressed with what he saw from Taylor in 2015.

"He's come a long way," Werth said. "A couple of years ago I was down rehabbing in A-ball in Potomac and he was playing there and you could see a lot of raw ability and you could tell he's got some talent and some ability and had a chance to be a big leaguer or whatever, then I think it was the next season he had the big season in [Double-A and Triple-A], however it went, but a chance to play at the big league level, learn at the big league level and kind of develop at the big league level, not too many players get that opportunity.

"Usually, you've got to go to Triple-A for a couple years, you've got to go to Double-A for a couple years and get that development, they call it, but it's not the same as playing in the big leagues. So, I think that really jumpstarted and kickstarted his career and his overall development as a player. I thought he did a really good job. He played great center field. He got some big hits throughout the season. I think that says a lot about a player too, how you hit with guys on base. How you hit in big situations. And overall, I couldn't tell you what his numbers were, but I remember those big hits, so that's definitely something you can hang your hat on at the end of the year."

Taylor put up a .264/.323/.451 line in 202 PAs with runners on base and a .317/.397/.500 line in 121 PAs with runners in scoring position (which led the Nationals and was good for 15th in the NL.

He finished the year tied for first among NL rookies with 16 stolen bases, tied for first among rookies with six outfield assists, fourth in RBIs (with 63) and tied for seventh in home runs.

He talked this past weekend about what he was working on improving as he prepares for 2016.

"I have some work to do," Taylor said.

"I feel like at times I was able to be consistent what I was trying to do at the plate, but I'm still not happy with where I'm at and hopefully I never will be and always trying to get better."

His focus this winter?

"I think one of the things that I struggled with was fouling off fastballs. I think that's just a simple thing that I can do to cut down on strikeouts and put the ball in play more. Just try not to do too much with the baseball. So I think it's more of a mentality thing than anything else, and something I can do in my practice. Not trying to hit home runs and knock the cover off the ball, just trying to hit the ball on the screws."

He was fouling it off because he was swinging too hard, Taylor explained, telling reporters it was something he tried to work on in the second half last season.

"I did and it's a battle. Sometimes you try to match the effort and things like that and it's just something that you have to continue to work on at least for me."

He was asked this weekend about the persistent chatter this winter that the Nationals are continuing to look for a left-handed bat that can play second or center?

"That's something that I'm not focused on right now," Taylor said. "I feel like with my game if I go out there and be the best I can that's really all I can do and kind of see where the chips fall after that."