The work of trying to get Michael A. Taylor to make more contact, cut down on the Ks, and make him into the best version of himself that he can be, or at least the latest attempts at a transformation, began last season when hitting coach Kevin Long began to tinker with the mechanics of Taylor’s swing.
“It was good,” Long said earlier this month when Taylor’s future with the organization came up at Nationals’ Winterfest in the nation’s capital.
“Last year at the end he wasn’t playing a whole lot, so we got to address quite a few of [the things] we wanted to work on this offseason, so he’s currently doing that. I think he’s going to play Winter ball as well, so he’s going to do that, then I’m going to go out to Florida for a brief period, and then he’s coming out to Arizona.”
By the end of the season, a reporter noted, Taylor’s whole set-up at the plate had changed, and though he didn’t get many at bats down the stretch, things were noticeably different.
Long said it would take time for the things they were working on to become second nature for the 27-year-old, five-year veteran, who finished the season at .227/.287/.357, with a total of 22 doubles, six home runs, 29 walks, and 116 Ks in 134 games and 385 plate appearances, over which he was worth 71 wRC+ and 0.9 fWAR (down from 3.1 fWAR in 2017, when he had something of a breakout season - .271/.320/.486, 23 doubles, 19 home runs, 29 walks, 137 Ks, and 104 wRC+ in 118 games and 432 PAs).
“It’s the muscle memory,” Long explained. “It’s really, you’ve trained and you’ve done things one way for a lot of years, and you’re basically retraining how you go about it. So it’s going to be a bit of a process, and that’s why us being able to address that and work was huge. And now he can take it into the offseason, and hopefully a bit of Winter ball, and then we’ll just continue. We came up with kind of the blueprint and we’re going to follow that.”
“He’s going to work with K-Long this winter and cut down on strikeouts,” Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez said, “and hopefully [Taylor and Victor Robles] will fight for the [center field] job.”
“I’m a big Michael Taylor fan, I am,” Martinez added. “His defense is the best, by far, in baseball. Nobody plays center field like him, so if we can get him to put the ball in play, he’s going to help us out a lot, and Victor is Victor. He’s young, up and coming, and very exciting, so we just hope that he gets off to a good start and he plays like we think he’s capable of playing.”
Taylor is currently in the Dominican Republic, playing for the Gigantes del Cibao, where he’s 3 for 16 with a double, a walk, and four Ks in four games.
“He’s in winter ball right now playing,” Martinez told reporters on Tuesday, when he spoke at the 2018 MLB Winter Meetings in Las Vegas.
“Hopefully he hones down in his swing and puts the ball in play and help us out a lot.”
Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo was asked on Wednesday night if it was out of the ordinary for a player like Taylor to be playing Winter ball.
“Because of the lack of at bats he had toward the end of the season it’s always important to see live pitching,” Rizzo explained, “and we thought that it was important to get him some one-on-one with Kevin, who is one of the best hitting coaches in the game, and really break down his swing and kind of give Michael a fresh start going into Spring Training.”
Both Martinez and Rizzo are on record saying they see Taylor as a potential bounce-back candidate after a lost year or sorts in 2018.
“I believe, seeing him as much as I have, you’re talking about a dynamic player,” Rizzo said, “and with adjustments he could be a special type of a big league player. Gold Glove-caliber defender, he’s got a plus plus arm that’s accurate and he throws a lot of guys out. Terrific runner, he’s a base stealer, he’s got big power. He figures out the contact portion of it a little bit better, you’re talking about a guy that can have five tools. He’s had flashes of it in the past, and he just needs to be more consistent in his approach at the plate. The kid is a really good player.”
Rizzo was asked if the changes the Nationals are making with Taylor, will impact or sacrifice his power, one thing the outfielder has had going for him at the plate thus far in his career?
“His raw power is there,” the GM said. “He just needs to put the bat on the ball more often and the power numbers will be there. You’re talking about a guy who has got extreme power to the opposite field. He can hit them as far as anybody. The power has never held him back, it’s not anything that we ever worry about. It’s getting to the power, the hit tool, utilizing it to get to the power, and if he can do that, if he can improve on that it’s going to make a big difference in his game.”