When Matt Williams got his first good look at Michael Taylor in the Spring of 2014, the former major leaguer-turned-manager was impressed with what he saw, especially on the defensive end.
"He is, I think, really unique," Williams said, "in that he is a -- if you were putting scouting numbers on him, he is an 80 defender. 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."
"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 continued.
Taylor worked his way up from Double to Triple-A for a brief stay and up to the majors last summer, with a combined .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 Harrisburg and Syracuse.
With the Nationals, Taylor was 8 for 39 with three doubles, one home run (in his MLB debut), three walks and 17 Ks in 43 PAs.
When Denard Span went down with a right core muscle injury this Spring, Taylor's already fast track was sped up.
The top-ranked outfielder on Baseball America's list of the Nationals' Top 10 prospects made the Opening Day roster in Span's absence.
Nats' GM Mike Rizzo acknowledged in an MLB Network Radio interview before the season started that there might be some growing pains for the 24-year-old Taylor.
"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."
Through 10 games, Taylor is 11 for 39 at the plate (.282/.333/.564), with three doubles, a triple, two home runs, three walks and 14 Ks. In last night's win he went 1 for 2 with a home run off veteran lefty Cole Hamels and a walk (intentional).
The blast came after he misplayed a fly to center off Philly catcher Carlos Ruiz's bat in the fourth inning, setting the Phillies up for the go-ahead run in what was a 1-1 game at that point. The Nationals rallied to tie it at 2-2 in the home-half of the fourth and Taylor took Hamels deep in the fifth to make it 3-2 in what ended up a 5-2 win.
So did the home run take the sting of the error away?
"It's nice to get that hit," Taylor told reporters after the game. "It didn't make me feel any better."
As for the defensive lapses in Boston this week, and then last night at home in D.C., Taylor refused to make excuses for what he said were plays he should have made.
"There's no excuse for what happened out there tonight or the last few nights," Taylor said. "It's inexcusable."
"I'm not going to even tell you what happened," he said, "because it will sound like an excuse."
Michael A. Taylor is surging at the plate but having some defensive struggles. WATCH him discuss the highs and low: https://t.co/8fUUvZgb9X— Nationals on MASN (@masnNationals) April 17, 2015
Asked how he's able to put the miscues and errors behind him and stay focused on the field, Taylor said he knows he's better than what he's shown on some of those plays.
"Honestly, I know that's not the player I am," he explained. "So, I just go out there and pray that they hit the ball again so I can make the next play."
He did talk to coach Tony Tarasco about the play though, and got some good advice.
"He coached me up, he said, 'Don't drop the ball,'" Taylor joked. "It's great coaching."
"The ball carried on him a little bit tonight," Matt Williams said when asked about the error in his own post game press conference.
"I think we take the Boston game out of it, it's sun, it's wind, it's all of those things. Tonight I think he just left the ball a little too soon. It carried on him. He got back on it fine, was able to catch it, I think he left it a little too soon, let it get a little bit too deep, and lost sight of it and it hit off the heel of his glove, but I think he's doing fine."
Williams also discussed some improvements he's seen from Taylor on the offensive end.
"Tonight he got ahead in the count and got a pitch that probably wasn't a strike up, center of the plate," Williams said, "but if he can get ahead in the count and stay off bad pitches, then he has opportunity for success. I just think he's doing fine. He's doing just fine."
Taylor's teammate, veteran outfielder Jayson Werth agreed with Williams' assessment of the 24-year-old rookie's perfomance thus far.
"He's good," Werth said. "He's a young player. He's kind of been fast tracked a little bit. I think he played in Double-A last year, and when he got sent back down he went to Triple-A, but essentially skipped Triple-A. Good player. I mean, runs good routes, he's smooth. He's got power obviously, but he's young. I think as he plays he'll continue to get some polish on him."
So what happens when Span returns? Williams was asked about the Nationals' plans during an MLB Network Radio interview this morning.
"Well, it's an interesting and a difficult problem to have because Michael has done so well," Williams said. "But what we want to make sure that we do is further his development. So we'll have to make sure that if -- when Denard comes back -- if we can get him in games and keep him fresh and keep him going, then we'd certainly love to have him at this level. But we'll have to determine that. That's one of those questions, when you get your full complement of guys in there, your original thought is to make sure he keeps playing. So we'll adjust, we'll make those determinations when Denard comes back and see where we go from there."