Nationals' General Manager Mike Rizzo said Monday, in an MLB Network Radio interview with "Inside Pitch" hosts Jim Bowden and Casey Stern, that ideally Denard Span would be in center field on Opening Day in Nats Park on April 6th, but with Washington's 31-year-old center fielder recovering from surgery to repair a right core muscle injury, and at this point unlikely to be ready for the season opener, it's looking more and more like Michael Taylor might start the year in center field.
"Span was an All-Star-caliber player last year," Rizzo explained. "He was a terrific player. He was the catalyst of our offense. We need him in the lineup. He gives us some balance from the left side of the plate. He doesn't strike out and he plays great defense and can steal you some bases and he's a professional veteran that's been through the wars."
In his second season in D.C. in 2014, Span put up a .302/.355/.416 line with 39 doubles, eight triples, five home runs and 31 stolen bases in 147 games and 668 plate appearances over which he was worth +3.8 fWAR.
In late October, Rizzo and the Nationals picked up the $9M option included in the contract Span came with when he was acquired from Minnesota in the winter of 2012-13.
Rizzo said at the time of the trade, which sent RHP Alex Meyer to the Twins, that Span gave the Nationals an experienced, defensive ballhawk of a center fielder and the leadoff man they were looking for to serve as a bridge to the next generation of outfielders coming up in the organization.
"We think we've got guys in the system that fill this role," Rizzo said. "But they're years away. They're in the pipeline and we're looking for big things from them down the road."
An '09 6th Round pick by the Nationals out of Westminster Academy in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Michael Taylor put together a solid season at High-A Potomac in 2013, posting a .263/.340/.426 line with 41 doubles, six triples, 10 HRs, 51 stolen bases, 55 walks and 131 Ks in 133 games and 581 PAs with the P-Nats.
He broke out in 2014, though, with a .304/.390/.526 line, 20 doubles, three triples, 23 HRs, 37 stolen bases, 57 walks and 144 Ks in 110 games and 493 PAs between Double-A Harrisburg (441 PAs) and Triple-A Syracuse (52).
Taylor was called up to make his major league debut in mid-August last summer, homering in his first game and going 8 for 39 with three doubles, the one home run, three walks and 17 Ks in 43 PAs.
Barring any setbacks, or hiccups, between now and Opening Day, Taylor will take the field between Jayson Werth (if he's healthy, or Tyler Moore? Maybe? if Werth's not) in left and Bryce Harper in his new position in right.
Rizzo said Monday, he thinks Taylor's capable of filling in for as long as it takes Span to get back on the field.
"Michael is a high-ceiling, sky-is-the-limit-type of player and you don't have in your system many guys that can hit for power, steal some bases, play great defense," Rizzo said. "Michael is a young offensive player in the league. He'll be exposed at times with pitchers that really know how to carve up young hitters, but he's a guy that has explosive talent and a guy that until Denard is ready, it's Michael Taylor time."