Player Preview: Michael A. Taylor
At the close of the 2015 season, there were a fair number of reasons for Michael A. Taylor fans to look to 2016 as a potential breakthrough year for the young outfielder.
On the one hand, things seem destined to get better for Taylor, whose rookie batting numbers simply don’t match the potential others have reportedly seen in him. The soon-to-be-25-year-old center fielder posted solidly mediocre offensive numbers - .229/.282/.358, with 108 hits in 511 plate appearances. More discouraging than his 35 walks were the whopping 158 strikeouts he managed.
On the other hand, what Taylor lacked at the plate, he arguably more than made up for with his glove. From the batter’s box, Taylor’s struggles amounted to a double-digit net loss of runs compared to the average Major League batter. But, according to Fangraphs, Taylor offset this by saving +14 runs more than the average defensive player in the league, per Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR).
One could also argue that it’s much too early to say a breakout year doesn’t lie ahead.
To start, when Taylor makes contact, he has the ability to make it count. The mere fact that he tallied 14 home runs amidst so many swings-and-misses shows he has power – he just needs to see the ball better. It may have been from a mile high but, let’s not look past the fact that Taylor hit one of last season’s longest home runs – a 474-foot blast according to ESPN’s home run tracker (493 feet, per MLB’s Statscast).
There’s also the fact that Taylor isn’t far removed from consistently decent numbers in the minors - his career MiLB line comes to .263/.337/.429. Additionally, the Nats gave Taylor just 20 games at the Triple-A level before officially branding him a Major Leaguer, which means he had little time to ready himself for the big leap.
In order for Taylor to make a splash, though, a number of factors have to swing in his favor.
For one, as the Washington Times reported, Taylor clearly spent a portion of the offseason working to become bigger and stronger. But, the number of opportunities he’ll get to display his newfound strength will depend in large part on Jayson Werth’s (in)ability to stay healthy. ‘
After all, as a result of the Nationals/Blue Jays deal that brought center fielder Ben Revere to the nation’s capital, Taylor will likely start the season as the team’s fourth outfielder. To draw positive attention, Taylor will first need to learn to cover more of the plate. In addition to improving his timing on fastballs, he'll have to develop better judgment against pitches thrown down and away. At the very least, his numbers will improve if he can convert more strikeouts to walks by gaining patience.
Fortunately for Washington, the right-handed batter is still young enough that even the smallest of mechanical - and mental - adjustments to his swing could spell improved results long-term.
Put all too simply, Taylor will need to break the long-standing habit of striking out – and in however few opportunities he may get – to earn a bigger role on the roster. If he can do so while channeling his power, the Nats could greatly benefit from his progress in 2016.