A big spring ahead for Taylor

From a developmental standpoint, 2014 was a massive year for Nationals outfielder Michael A. Taylor. Selected out of high school as a sixth-round pick back in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, Taylor was viewed as a potential center fielder at the big league level early on because of his speed and defensive ability. He made his way through the low levels of the Nats minor league system delivering on that reputation, but also struggling somewhat with the bat. In 2010, his first taste of affiliated professional ball, Taylor hit just .199 with a .574 OPS between the Gulf Coast League and low Single-A Hagerstown. taylor-homer-gray-sidebar.jpgIn 2011, which was spent entirely at Hagerstown, Taylor's power came around, as he slugged .432 and hit 13 homers, but his batting average sat at .253 and his on-base percentage was .310. Bumped up to high Single-A Potomac in 2012, Taylor again had some struggles offensively, hitting .242 with a .680 OPS and just three homers in 109 games. But after that, things started to come around. Taylor's second go-round at Potomac saw him steal 51 bases and produce a .767 OPS, including a much-improved .340 on-base percentage. And Taylor carried that effort over into 2014, when things really took off for him. The Fort Lauderdale native tore up the Eastern League, hitting .313/.396/.539 for Double-A Harrisburg. The power was there (Taylor hit 22 home runs), the speed was there (he stole 34 bases), and the on-base percentage was much-improved over past years despite the elevated talent level. He got promoted to Triple-A Syracuse in August, but in the blink of an eye was up in the big leagues thanks to Jayson Werth's shoulder injury. And now Taylor finds himself in the mix for a bench job with the Nats in 2015. Taylor clearly has loads of potential, and he could make for a solid fill-in should Werth need to miss a little time due to his shoulder surgery. His defensive ability alone makes him an intriguing option there. But it is important to remember that Taylor is still just 23 years old and has only gotten 95 plate appearances above the Double-A level. He's moved from high Single-A to the majors in a year, and while he has shown he can contribute in the big leagues, there's still more developing that needs to happen there. Taylor struck out 161 times in 467 at-bats last year, a 34 percent strikeout rate, which isn't ideal for a bench player who would get a large chunk of at-bats in pinch-hitting situations. Spring training will be big for Taylor, as a solid performance could go a long way towards securing a spot for him on the 25-man roster. He might be a key piece if Werth is set to miss time. But if Taylor struggles a bit in spring and Nate McLouth shows that he's healthy, Taylor could end up back at Syracuse, where he could continue to develop in a lower-stress environment.

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