Tony Tarasco on outfielder Michael Taylor: “The kid’s a specimen”

It was September 2010 and the Nationals had decided to move Michael Taylor from shortstop to the outfield. The decision was made and presented to Taylor prior to instructional league workouts.

Tony Tarasco, currently the Nationals’ first base coach, was then the outfield coordinator for the organization.

“We told (Taylor) we thought it was a better place for him to shine and take advantage of his athleticism,” Tarasco recalled. “Thought he would grow a lot quicker. He didn’t take it too well when he first was presented with it.”

But as soon as Taylor played a few innings and made a few plays in center, he liked the change.

“We drafted him as a shortstop,” Tarasco said. “It seems like when we put him out there some of the burdens of shortstop were lifted off his shoulder. With the encouragement of the minor league staff he started swinging the barrel at the baseball a lot better.”

Tarasco watched the first week of Taylor playing his new position and instantly knew the Nats had made the right choice.

“I remember the first day he went out to play. We worked out for a couple days, took him through his foundation and just talked to him about a few things,” Tarasco said. “He went gap to gap, from one side of the gap to the other side of the gap on the wall and made a play.

“At that moment, you just knew that (assistant general manager and vice president of player development) Doug Harris and (general manager) Mike Rizzo had made the right decision in moving him over to center field.”

Taylor is now the starting center fielder for Double-A Harrisburg, leading off for the Senators.

Tarasco said one of the top reasons Taylor is so good at his craft is his meticulous attention to every part of the job, from throws to range to glovework to communication between the left fielder and right fielder about positioning.

“Even to a fault, sometimes he is very detailed about the work that he does in the outfield,” Tarasco said. “He doesn’t just shag fly balls. He tries to put himself in the different scenarios. He tries to field as many ground balls off the bat as well as fly balls. He’s constantly working on his footwork and his throwing. It seems as though its starting to come together where it flows a little better more for him.”

Tarasco watched as Taylor’s game improved after the move to center field, but he also watched as Taylor grew up off the field in the way he dealt with the coaching staff.

“What was amazing was the change. When we got him as a shortstop he was a very shy, bashful guy,” Tarasco said. “His dad was in the military. It took me two months to get him to stop calling me ‘sir’. I respect that, but I was telling him I’m not that old yet, you can’t call me sir yet. He’s just very respectful.

“We tried to get him to loosen up a little bit. To see him go from that to being a commander and a stalker in the outfield. Some guys roam it, some guys prowl it, he’s like a stalker. It’s like he is sitting on a perch, like an eagle. His eyes are good, the way he comes after balls. It’s really fun to watch him play. I’m proud of him a lot, really proud of him.”

Eury Perez and Brian Goodwin are certainly good center fielders in the system. But does Taylor have what it takes to be the best of the center field prospects in the Nationals organization?

“I definitely think he has it,” Tarasco said. “As long as he continues working, I think he has the potential to be an outstanding center fielder at the major league level. He’s got to get here first, so he has to maintain that hunger.

“He’s on the bus. As I like to say when you get on the 40-man or you come to big league camp, you are on the bus. The hard part ain’t getting here, the hard part’s staying. I definitely think he’s got the capability, the talent and the hunger to become a great center fielder.”

Taylor stands 6-foot-3 and is 209 lbs. His athletic ability on defense also comes out in his swing. He has worked to lower his strikeout totals and has made progress on that front this season.

“You teach a guy to not swing at sliders in the dirt,” Tarasco said. “He’s got to swing at about 100 of them before he realizes I can’t hit that. Stop swinging at it one day, you get that by getting at-bats.

“The kid’s a specimen. He’s got that long, wiry body. It’s strong. He’s (was) younger then and started growing into his man strength. He also works in the gym, the way he trains himself in the outfield and the way he trains himself hitting. He’s kind of grown into his body. It’s just amazing to see it.”

The home run numbers have been another reason Taylor has been getting a lot of attention. He already has a career-high 18 homers in 79 games this season.

“We saw some pop potential the second we moved him into the outfield and he went to (low Single-A) Hagerstown, he had (13) home runs,” Tarasco noted. “He had consistent at-bats. He had been hurt his first couple years. You gotta get ABs. That’s the main thing for any young kid, teenager or young minor leaguer.

“I’ve seen that tenacity in his work ethic. He works in the outfield like Denard (Span). Reading every ball off the bat, he really makes a conscious effort to put himself in the right spot.”

Taylor will get to display those talents during the All-Star Game festivities in Minneapolis because he has been invited alongside Lucas Giolito from the Nationals to participate in the Futures Game, which will be held on Sunday, July 13.

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