In surprising news this morning, the Washington Nationals sent outfielder Michael A. Taylor to Triple-A Syracuse. The decision comes as a corresponding move to closer Jonathan Papelbon returning from the disabled list.
Taylor has had an up and down season with the Washington Nationals in his first full year with the club. While he has shown flashes of his immense potential, he has also struggled mightily at the plate at times and has a hard time hitting breaking balls, which is part of the reason he’s struck out 64 times this season.
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As a speedy centerfielder, Taylor has always projected as a leadoff hitter for the Nationals, and that’s how manager Dusty Baker has used him this season. But Taylor’s struggles to get on base in 2016 made it ever-difficult to justify batting him leadoff — his .266 on-base percentage is by far the worst of any Nationals position players.
Taylor had the opportunity to lock up the everyday center field job while Ben Revere was on the disabled list for the first month of the season. But the young outfielder struggled, and was relegated to the fourth-outfielder role for much of the first half. Lately, however, Baker had been using Taylor in a platoon with Revere, but both players have played poorly for most of the season.
The fact that Revere isn’t necessarily an upgrade from Turner makes today’s move all the more interesting for the Nationals. Based on how both Turner and Revere have played this season, it’s not hard to imagine the team looking elsewhere for their center field and leadoff needs down the stretch and into the postseason.
And that brings us to the perpetual elephant in the room: superstar shortstop prospect, Trea Turner.
For months, Turner has been tearing it up in the minors, patiently waiting for the opportunity to bring his speed and offensive prowess to the game’s biggest stage (preferably for more than three games, this time). But with Danny Espinosa’s sudden rise to fame this season, Turner appears to be stuck in Syracuse — at least until Espinosa comes back to earth (if he ever does).
Recently, however, the Nationals have been testing Turner out in center field with Syracuse. Given the team’s struggles at that position, increasing his versatility and becoming acclimated at centerfield may very well be Turner’s quickest path to the big leagues.
And with today’s announcement that Taylor is headed to Syracuse, it looks as though the Nationals may be trying to accelerate that plan. The team is now a position player short, and a move could be made prior to the All-Star break to send a reliever to the minors and promote a position player.
For Taylor, his demotion to Triple-A will give him the opportunity to work on his hitting and get back to the level of production needed to succeed at the big league level. But for everyone else, today’s news comes as another interesting development in the “when will they call up Trea Turner” saga.