WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Michael A. Taylor went to the Dominican Republic in early December, the rare major league veteran who was willing to go play winter ball for the Gigantes del Cibao and try to implement some significant changes he and Nationals hitting coach Kevin Long made to his swing at the end of the 2018 season.
It should’ve been a great proving ground for Taylor to try out those changes and allow him to report for spring training ahead of the curve. But two days in, Taylor pulled his hip flexor. Five days later, he felt a twinge in his oblique muscle.
He stuck around for the rest of the Gigantes’ regular season but wound up playing in only seven games himself. He went 4-for-28 with one walk and nine strikeouts, hardly enough time to fully test out the new swing, but he doesn’t view the trip as a complete loss.
“Had some injuries, so my time was cut a little short there,” he said. “But I still feel like it was productive and I got some work in.”
Taylor says he feels fine now, having had two months to rest and rehab before reporting for spring training.
“I haven’t had any problems,” he said. “It’s something I’m going to have to pay attention to, keep an eye on my workload. But it should be no problem.”
Even if that proves to be true, this was close to the last thing Taylor needed to have happen to him during an important winter on a personal level. Having already seen his playing time dwindle to next to nothing during the final two months of last season, he knows he’s coming to camp needing to prove something if he’s going to stave off top prospect Victor Robles for the Nationals’ starting job in center field.
Not that this is new territory for Taylor. He’s rarely been assured of anything throughout his career, always attempting to prove he deserves more playing time or stuck as the fourth man in a three-man outfield.
“I think even if that wasn’t the case, my mindset wouldn’t change,” he said. “I come in here and work and get ready for the season, so that’s not really something that affects me.”
If Taylor is going to earn significant playing time in 2019, he’s going to have to prove to the Nationals coaching staff that those swing changes lead to more consistent production. After a breakthrough performance in 2017 that was capped by a brilliant postseason, Taylor regressed back into his previous form last season. And opportunities to snap out of it were few and far between in August and September, when he amassed only 59 plate appearances.
“I mean, everyone wants to play,” he said. “It was difficult because I was working on something and I wanted to see where I was at, but the playing time wasn’t there. That’s just the way it is.”
Taylor had been working with Long for a while to make tweaks to his swing, and there were even more changes once the season ended. Taylor describes those changes in basic terms.
“I think trying to simplify everything,” he said. “I want to get to a ready position and a strong position a little easier, so my timing can be more consistent. That’s the biggest change.”
Taylor didn’t get a lot of time to try it out in the Dominican, but he did notice one key aspect of the swing overhaul that required some getting used to.
“The biggest adjustment is the timing,” he said. “When you have A, B, C and D you need to do before you’re ready to hit, and then you bring it down to just A and B, it gives you a lot more time. So I found when I got down there I was out in front of some fastballs that I normally wouldn’t be. So it was just trying to get used to being in a position early and then just waiting.”
Now he’ll need to prove he can implement all that in spring training games and earn his way back into the Nationals’ daily lineup.