MLB.com’s Richard Justice put out his list of the top 10 most interesting players and storylines to begin spring training. The Angels’ Shohei Ohtani and the Orioles’ Manny Machado headed this list.
I was asked last week during “The Mid-Atlantic Sports Report” on MASN who I would pick as the most interesting player as the Nationals get going in spring training.
It would be an obvious choice to pick second baseman Daniel Murphy (microfracture surgery, right knee) or outfielder Adam Eaton (anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus repair in left knee) as the most interesting or most intriguing players to monitor heading into the 2018 season, as both return from major surgeries.
There will always be big questions as to how well players can return from these types of surgeries, and when they will be back to 100 percent on the field.
But my most interesting or intriguing pick was a bit different: outfielder Michael A. Taylor.
Taylor had the best postseason of any Nats player at the plate, hitting .333 (5-for-15) with two homers and eight RBIs, finishing with a whopping 1.047 OPS in the National League Division Series.
His value throughout the season was critical for the Nats’ success, especially when Eaton went down with the season-ending injury in late April. Then Taylor came up with a pair of dramatic home runs in the playoffs: the grand slam in Game 4 off of Wade Davis and a three-run shot at the beginning of Game 5.
Of the 20 runs scored by the Nats in the series, eight of the RBIs were courtesy of Taylor.
In 2015 and 2016, Taylor hovered around a .230 batting average, hitting a combined 21 homers, but also striking out 235 times.
But in 2017, he hit a season career-high .271 and crushed nine homers in September plus the playoff series.
His fielding percentage was outstanding at .985, committing only four errors in 271 chances over 943 1/3 innings.
With veteran Jayson Werth moving on, Taylor returns as the starting center fielder. Eaton goes to left field and Bryce Harper remains in right field. Talented Victor Robles is waiting, but still needs games to gain the experience Taylor already has. If Taylor can continue the good run he was on at the end of 2017, that will be a very important added security blanket if Eaton can return to top speed right out of the gate.
The 26-year-old Taylor also offers leadership skill as the quarterback of the outfield, something he was known to have done in the minor leagues. That leadership provided cohesiveness and direction to the outfield at each level, making sure each outfielder was on the same page before each pitch. He continues that leadership into the majors.
The strikeouts are always going to be something that Taylor concentrates on diminishing. He struck out 137 times in 2017, but was able to double his walk rate and his on-base percentage moved from .278 to .320.
How important was he to the Nats’ success with Werth not having a great season and Eaton pretty much lost for the campaign?
Taylor’s WAR was a career-high 2.6. Taylor had never had a WAR better than 0.0 for a season since he arrived in 2014.
So for all the talk about Eaton and Murphy, my pick for the Nats’ most interesting player in 2018 is Taylor.