In his listing of Michael Taylor as the fourth-best prospect in the Nationals’ system this February, Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks pegged Taylor to arrive in the major leagues in 2016. Taylor showed up ahead of schedule on Tuesday night, replacing the injured Steven Souza Jr. on the roster, starting in right field in place of the injured Jayson Werth and going 2-for-4 with a two-run home run off the Mets' Carlos Torres in the sixth inning of the Nationals' 7-1 win over the Mets at Citi Field.
That home run was no fluke. Though Taylor’s lanky frame and baby face might suggest otherwise, he has significant power, which has finally translated to game action this year. After spending the entirety of the last two seasons with High-A Potomac — a lack of progress that dragged down his prospect status — the 23-year-old righty hit 22 home runs in 98 Double-A games this year while posting a .313/.396/.539 line. Then he went 5-for-13 (.385) in four Triple-A games with four of those five hits going for extra bases before being promoted on Sunday.
A natural center fielder, Taylor’s speed and defense have never been in doubt. Baseball America listed him as the best athlete and best defensive outfielder in the Nationals’ system last November, and he has stolen 86 bases at an 85 percent success rate over the last two seasons. However, there have been some concerns about whether Taylor would be able to improve his approach at the plate enough to hit for sufficient averages and bring his power into games.
Thus far this year, he has struck out in a career-high 28.6 percent of his plate appearances, but he has also posted career-bests in walk rate, batting average, home runs and isolated power. As you might expect, there’s some batting average on balls-in-play correction to come, but the fact that Taylor is enjoying his finest offensive season while making his debut at the three highest levels of competition in the game has to be extremely encouraging for Washington.
It’s also extremely well-timed as Werth has started just one of the Nationals’ last four games due to an inflamed AC joint in his right shoulder and saw a doctor before Tuesday’s game. Nationals manager Matt Williams has said he expects Werth to avoid the disabled list — though he looks far from ready to return — and Taylor’s strong performance on Tuesday could reduce the pressure on Werth to do so.
Taylor’s arrival is the latest encouraging performance from a Nationals outfielder. Center fielder Denard Span has been on a hot streak since play resumed after the All-Star break, hitting .424/.482/.485 over 112 second-half plate appearances. Meanwhile, Bryce Harper appears to be emerging from his slump with two hits in three of his last five games. Harper has now gone 7-for-24 (.292) with two home runs over his last six contests, including a two-run shot Tuesday night.
Taking a bigger-picture view, Taylor could well be Span’s successor in center field. That Span has a $9 million option for 2015 was likely one reason Parks pegged Taylor’s arrival to 2016, but if Taylor can build off his impressive debut, he may wind up taking over for Span ahead of schedule.
Note: Taylor is the seventh player to hit a home run in his major league debut this season, joining top prospects Javier Baez, Oscar Taveras and Jon Singleton, as well as the Giants’ Adam Duvall, Cleveland’s Roberto Perez and the Yankees’ Zelous Wheeler. However, Taylor singled before his home run Tuesday night. The other six all homered for their first major league hit.