It has been quite the ascension for Nationals outfield prospect Michael Taylor.
Reports have Taylor in Atlanta ready for possible activation to the big league club if outfielder Steven Souza Jr. has to be placed on the disabled list due to injury.
Back in January, Taylor was honored as the 2013 Potomac Nationals Player of the Year. He was placed on the 40-man roster around the same time.
The previous season started with then-Potomac hitting coach Mark Harris working on adjusting Taylor's approach, having a set plan each at-bat and concentrating on getting the ball he wanted to hit versus going with what the pitcher decides.
But in January, Taylor told me his experience in the Puerto Rican winter league exposed him to a variety of pitches and strategies from pitchers. This experience helped him adapt into a more patient hitter because he had memorized almost every scenario the opposition could throw at him.
This season began with Double-A Harrisburg. Taylor tore up the Eastern League as a leadoff man. In 98 games, the 23-year-old Taylor hit a career-best .313 with 22 homers and 61 RBIs. He stole 34 bases, more than one every three games. His on-base percentage with the Senators was .396. He had 120 hits.
His former Potomac hitting coach was with him in Harrisburg and helped Taylor further his path to the big leagues. Following the All-Star Futures Game this July, Harris said Taylor had concentrated on improving his approach even more, honing his mechanics by shortening his load up in the box and putting the ball in play.
"When Michael puts the ball in play, he has agot a chance to get a hit," Harris said. "That was probably the thing that he focused on more than anything in the winter, as far as when he went to Puerto Rico, and into spring. Sort of a different guy, with realization of that, and I think if you look and see his two-strike hits this year compared to last year, I would easily say he's got more this year than he did last year. He's just putting the ball in play."
Hitting is the final piece in the puzzle for Taylor. Following his recent promotion to Triple-A Syracuse last week, he continued to hit well. Taylor hit .385 in four games for the Chiefs with a galactic OPS of 1.299, including three doubles and a triple.
Back in 2010, the Nationals moved Taylor from shortstop to center field. Current first base coach and former major leaguer Tony Tarasco knew from that first week after the positional adjustment that Taylor had the tools to play the outfield. It wasn't just his speed and agility in the outfield, but how he continually repeated defensive strategies and timing to get better.
"Even to a fault, sometimes he is very detailed about the work that he does in the outfield," Tarasco said in July. "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 it's starting to come together where it flows a little better more for him."
It is exciting to see how this quiet and humble young outfielder has moved so quickly from low Single-A Hagerstown in 2011 all the way to a shot at the big leagues if Souza winds up on the disabled list.
Updated: The Nationals confirmed that Taylor was activated as Souza was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a left shoulder contusion.