Michael A. Taylor had a consistent backer in Washington Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez during their time together in the nation’s capital.
Martinez talked often about Taylor as a Gold Glove-caliber defender in the outfield.
Taylor, 29, and a 2009 6th Round pick by the Nats, got consistent at bats due to injuries to other outfield options in Martinez’s first year on the bench in 2018, got sporadic at bats in 2019 and 2020, then cleared outright waivers this winter, before the seven-year big league veteran opted for free agency.
Earlier this week, Taylor, who signed $3.325M in 2019, after he avoided arbitration with the Nationals last winter, signed a 1 year/$1.75M deal with the Kansas City Royals.
The deal includes $1M in performance bonuses based on plate appearances, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, and both Taylor and Royals’ General Manager Dayton Moore said they expect he’ll claim one of the starting spots in the outfield.
Taylor has a career .237/.291/.395 line and he was worth a combined 3.8 fWAR in 574 games and 1,804 plate appearances over his seven seasons in D.C., with a .316/.395/.632 line in 16 games and 43 plate appearances in postseason action, but his struggles with contact (31.4 K% for his career) were an issue throughout his time with the Nationals.
The Royals think there’s still untapped potential in Taylor’s game, given regular at bats, but Moore, in a Zoom call with reporters on Monday, said he’s aware of the issues which Taylor has dealt with in the past.
“I think we certainly recognize some of the ways that Michael needs to improve offensively,” the GM said.
“He understands that as well. We believe there’s some upside there, but the ability to play that position is really, really important.”
“We do think Michael will continue to get better, we don’t think he’s reached his ceiling offensively by any means.”
Taylor said his swing is still a work in progress, part of the continuing process of revamping his approach at the plate.
Recently, Taylor explained, he, “... made some mechanical changes,” to his swing, “to try to make more contact and be more consistent.
“A lot of it is timing,” he said. “Before I had a leg kick which gave me a lot of rhythm. A leg kick can bring some good things, but I felt like it made me a little streaky as far as timing, so getting rid of that is an effort to make more contact, and then just an approach and a mindset, going up there and taking a 70% swing or whatever that number is for me to where I can be consistent and put the ball in play is far greater than running into a few balls here and there.”
Getting consistent at bats, Taylor, argued, will definitely help him find consistency at the plate.
“I think when you can have consistent at bats it’s easier to kind of get up to game speed,” Taylor said.
“When you’re playing every few days, or sporadically, it can be tough to be on time at the plate, and that’s kind of what brought about this swing change, it was out of necessity, when I wasn’t getting every day at bats, it just makes it easier to go out there and compete, and I think with consistent at bats it will be even easier. So, I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
“When you have limited opportunities,” he added, “you kind of sometimes fall into that trap of trying to do everything in one day.
“You want to go 4 for 4 every day, and when you’re playing every day, or you know you’re going to play, or you’re going to get the at bats, it allows you to kind of relax and fall into a spot where you just go out there and play and try not to do too much.”
Moore said he expects that the opportunities will be there for Taylor.
“[Manager] Mike [Matheny] makes out the lineup, but we’re going to give Michael Taylor a lot of opportunity to play every day.
“We feel like we have two really, high-quality center fielders on this team at this point in time. We expect Michael Taylor to certainly get first crack at that.”
Taylor, informed of Moore’s comments, said he knows he’ll have to earn any opportunities.
“Obviously everyone wants to play every day,” Taylor said, “and for me, in our conversations I told [Moore] that I want to go out there and earn it.
“I’m not expecting to be given anything. So, it’s nice to hear, but at the end of the day I know I have to perform.”
“I think there is still some untapped potential there,” Moore said at another point.
“He would be the first to tell you he hasn’t been as consistent as he’d like. He’s been a part of championship teams. He’s put together some terrific streaks. He has speed and power.
“He understands the importance of improving his swing and miss, which, we understand that as well, but he’s a terrific athlete, a terrific talent, extremely intelligent.
“Somebody that Mike Matheny and [Royals’ bench coach] Pedro Grifol and all of our scouts recommended and believe in from their various experiences with him.”
What does Taylor think he needs to do to keep himself in the lineup on a daily basis? Asked to diagnose what he needs to do, he said simply, “[put] the ball in play earlier in the count.”
“I think I get to too many two-strike counts, but I’ve been working on that over the years, just shortening up my swing, not trying to hit the long ball every at-bat, and take singles and doubles, and thinks like that. Cutting down on the strikeouts is a huge thing.”
It’s something Taylor has been working on for some time now, with the changes to his swing a project over the course of his career with the Nationals, but the latest adjustments are the ones he’s adopted fairly recently.
“It’s been about two years,” Taylor said, “... but this year I felt like I made big strides just in getting comfortable, after going from a leg kick for so long and basically as long as I can remember to no stride for a while, honestly in that first year I felt like I was almost stuck. Almost hitting in mud or cement, where I just didn’t feel like I had any rhythm or any kind of momentum going into my swing, it was just from a standstill and launching, and that can bring other problems also, so it’s been a bit of a long process, but this year I really felt like it was my thing instead of something I was trying to adopt.”