Taylor said yesterday at Nationals Winterfest that he isn’t taking anything for granted, and that he’s approaching spring training in February the way he’s approached every one of the major league camps he’s attended.
“I take the same approach as I have in years past and every year: just come out, be ready to go and be in the best position I can be to go out there and play in whatever role I’m in,” he said.
Even a camp where he’s a presumed starter with a chance to build on his 2017 success?
“If that’s the case, that’s nice,” Taylor said. “But anything can happen.”
After seizing the opportunity to play regularly following Adam Eaton’s season-ending knee injury in late April, Taylor didn’t miss a beat. He slashed .271/.320/.486 with 19 home runs and 17 stolen bases - all career-high numbers - and 53 RBIs. Having flubbed chances to take over in center field when injuries befell Denard Span and Ben Revere in previous years, Taylor took the ball and ran with it.
His June production of .299/.330/.619 with seven homers and 18 RBIs was a hint of what was to come. In September, when the Nats were coasting to the National League East crown, Taylor slashed .284/.340/.558 with seven homers and 15 RBIs. Then, in the National League Division Series loss to the Cubs, Taylor was the Nats’ most dangerous bats with a .333/.444/.733 line that included two homers and eight RBIs, and put his breakout on a national stage.
“I was happy. I felt like I made some strides in my game,” Taylor said. “Every year, I try to learn ... from my mistakes and continue to move forward in my career. I made some adjustments that were necessary, but there’s still a lot I want to work on.”
This winter, Taylor has focused his workouts on building up arm strength and taking care of his right shoulder. He didn’t have any kind of an injury, but some of his throws last season didn’t have enough zip on them to please him.
“I made some good throws during the year, but I’d like to be a little more consistent with accuracy and ... the way the ball’s carrying,” he said.
Taylor played center field almost exclusively last season, but he started games at seven different spots in the batting order, with different lineup positions carrying different responsibilities and needs. Like any hitter, he’d like to trim his strikeouts - 137 in 399 at-bats - and put the ball in play on a more regular basis.
“Cut down on the strikeouts and work on putting the ball in play early in the count. Things will build off there,” he said. “Stealing more bags and defense is something I’m always trying to work on, things like that. I felt like my arm didn’t play as well as I’d like it to, so that’s something I’m working on this year as far as much throwing program.”
Most of all, the 26-year-old just wants to be himself, because when he’s tried to do to much in the past, he’s found himself struggling and quickly on the bench.
“Every time I try to do too much and manufacture results, it doesn’t end up being the result I want,” he said.