We learned Monday that Denard Span required surgery to repair a right core muscle injury. The general timetable that we're hearing is that Span will need 4-6 weeks before he's ready to resume baseball activities. Of course, resuming baseball activities doesn't mean starting major league baseball games. Span had just two plate appearances in the first Spring Training game of the year before aggravating the injury. He's probably going to need some time in extended Spring Training and will almost certainly spend at least a week or two on a rehab stint in the minors before he's back in the big league lineup. I'm guessing he's out until early-to-mid May.
While Span's presence on the diamond will certainly be missed, it does present prospect Michael Taylor with a tremendous opportunity. Furthermore, as Span is a free agent after the season, it will give the Nationals a nice opportunity to evaluate his potential successor. The converted shortstop had a tremendous breakout with the bat last season, batting .313/.396/.539 with 22 HR and 34 SB in 98 games for Harrisburg last season. He has great power and tremendous speed, but despite the outstanding stats from 2014, his bat isn't necessarily his best trait.
Here's what Baseball America had to say about him in an article about the best defensive center fielders in the minors:
Scouts don’t hesitate to throw double-plus grades on Harrisburg’s Michael Taylor’s (Nationals) range in center field, and it’s easy to see why with an off-the-charts rate of 3.14 PO/G that led anybody with at least 70 games at one level. Of course, Senators pitchers allowed an extreme rate of flyballs (1.14 GO/AO), but even so Taylor averaged nearly half a putout per game more than No. 2 Todd Cunningham (above). Taylor rounded out a terrific defensive profile with a plus arm (10 assists) and sure hands (one error).
The praise doesn't stop there. Milb.com mentioned him as "The next big thing" in an October article about the minors best defenders in center field:
In the years since the position change, Taylor's emerged not only as one of the Minors' most athletically gifted center fielders but also as one of the most polished. His reads and jumps are excellent for a Minor League defender. He also has an above-average arm he utilizes well, making good decisions and throwing with accuracy.
I will confess that while I'll miss watching Denard Span run perfect route after perfect route early this season, watching Taylor run down balls in center field is going to be fun to watch. He should have few problems showing that he's strong enough with the glove to play regularly in center field while Span is out. He's also shown enough pop with the bat and ability on the basepaths so that I'm excited about his offensive potential.
However, I did promise a rant in the foreword, didn't I? I had the misfortune of reading this tweet from Washington Post writer Chelsea Janes this morning:
Williams identified Rendon, McLouth and Taylor as potential leadoff guys with Span out. Taylor there today, more to maximize ABs, he said.— Chelsea Janes (@chelsea_janes) March 10, 2015
Since this article is geared more towards the mention of Taylor in this tweet, I'm only going to touch on Rendon and McLouth briefly.
- Rendon makes perfect sense. Among returning starters, he ranked third on the Nats with a .351 OBP last season (behind Jayson Werth and Span). He makes pretty good contact (his 15.2% K rate was lower than all starters other than Span). He's not afraid to work the walk. He's even pretty useful on the basepaths (17 for 20). I'd prefer to have him batting second, but extreme circumstances call for extreme solutions.
- McLouth was a nice leadoff man from 2007-2009. It's 2015, though. He's coming off of a poor and injury-plagued season, so chances are that he'll be better this season. However, even his 2013 rebound year saw him finish with just a .329 OBP. When McLouth plays, he'll likely be the sixth or seventh best hitter in the lineup. He shouldn't be leading off.
- For the old school line of thinking, Taylor runs extremely well. He's 88 for 106 in stolen base attempts across four levels the past two years.
- For those who subscribe more to the new school, Taylor does have decent on-base skills outside of his pure hitting ability. Taylor maintained a walk rate of 9.4% in 2012 and 2013 at Potomac and actually showed slightly better patience last season, walking in 11.2% of his plate appearances across three levels.