Of all the good stories to come from this year’s Washington Nationals, Michael Taylor’s job in center is the happiest. He deserves all the credit.
Known for clutch hits in the Grapefruit League and strikeouts by the metric ton in the regular season, Taylor’s MLB future looked grim in early April. Yes, he played well in West Palm Beach. Another slow start in April almost doomed him to Triple-A Syracuse.
Then right out of central casting in Hollywood, Taylor caught a huge break. Adam Eaton went down with a torn ACL. The centerfielder job was his and fans howled in disgust. This was a stopgap move until a trade happened, right?
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Perspective and advice changed everything.
Taylor’s father died at the end of March, pulling the son away from the team as he fought for a roster spot. To the surprise of most, he made the 25-man roster over Joe Ross.
When Eaton went down for the season, manager Dusty Baker told Taylor this was it. The job was his, and this is his last chance to show he can play at a major-league level.
The number of smart fans clamoring for a trade now are zero.
Taylor collected his thoughts and earned the job he long dreamed of. His speed gives him tremendous range in the large ballparks of the National League. The swing is refined into a short, compact swat. When he makes contact, the batting average is a whopping .361.
Unlike the bigger hitters, Taylor’s job is to be aggressive early in the count. Hitting far down in the order, he gets a good look at what the pitcher has and hits mistakes. With 23 extra-base hits in 59 games, he is on the verge of having career-best numbers in doubles, homers and triples.
Yes, he is a strikeout machine. His 70 lead the team. His .763 OPS, however, is higher than Trea Turner’s .717. Taylor is no longer an automatic out. The player of tomorrow is here today.
Although not an All-Star, Taylor has made the most of this chance. He hits .345 at home, believe it or not. When you design a number eight hitter in the NL, he fits the bill. His ability to hit doubles and pitcher’s mistakes makes him a tough out at the bottom of the lineup.
In a cynical world where we magnify mistakes and shred others making them, Taylor’s emergence as an everyday player deserves attention. From nearly out of the big leagues to a full-time gig in center is a great story for which he deserves the credit.