There is no better defensive center fielder that walks this earth,” one National League scout said. “Majors, minor leagues, whatever.”
The honor of top Nationals position player prospect, by consensus, still belongs to center fielder Brian Goodwin. But Taylor is rising fast. The Nationals put him on their 40-man roster this winter. His bat has improved steadily, and it will get an important test this season when he leaps to Class AA Harrisburg. His defense makes some baseball lifers talk like they have found religion.
“If you were putting scouting numbers on him, he’s an 80 defender,” Manager Matt Williams said. The scouting scale runs from 20 to 80, and 80s get thrown around like Nobel Prizes.
“He would be a guy that is potentially on the fast track,” Williams added. “Of course, there are a lot of variables there and a lot of things can sideline that track sometimes, slumps and things like that. All the tools are there. Those tools are certainly present for all of us to see at this point. I want us to get a chance to see him play in games when the other team’s got another uniform on. But everything I’ve heard, from our staff to the minor league staff that have seen him play, is he’s a pretty incredible defender in center field.”
Within the Nationals organization, Taylor has long been considered an elite defender. His offense has taken time to develop since the Nationals drafted him in the sixth round in 2009. The Nationals believe Taylor is still growing into his power, and that his swing, which creates backspin, will soon be capable of 20-homer seasons.
“Just trying to shorten up and stay with my approach, just stay simple,” Taylor said.
Taylor’s hitting started showing significant improvement at the end of last season. He went to Puerto Rico for winter ball to fine-tune his swing and receive more reps. Winter ball inherently offers a small sample and competition that makes evaluation difficult. But Taylor dominated. He led the Puerto Rican league in hitting, slapped up a .365/.428/.511 slash line and drilled 12 extra-base hits in 137 at-bats.
While in the clubhouse one afternoon in Puerto Rico, he received a call from an unfamiliar 202 number. When he answered, Nationals Director of Player Development Mark Scialabba and GM Mike Rizzo were on the line. They told him he had put on the 40-man roster.
“I was really surprised,” Taylor said. “But I was very happy.”
Taylor spent little time celebrating.
“I don’t think I’ve made it really anywhere yet,” Taylor said. “I’m just happy to have the opportunity to be here.”
Taylor comes from a military background, and Nationals officials rave about his character to the point they laugh about it. Taylor is quiet and incredibly polite. After I spoke with him for a brief interview, I thanked him for his time.
“Thank you, sir,” he replied. I told him to watch it, that I’m too young to be called “sir.” He apologized and said, “I’m just used to it.” I laughed, told him I was only joking and to have a good day. “You, too, sir,” he said. “I mean, you, too.”
If Taylor continues on his track, he will be in the majors someday soon. His defensive ability demands it. He is quiet and not well known outside Washington, but that could change.
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MATT WILLIAMS’S QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Be a good player but be a better teammate.”
DAYS UNTIL OPENING DAY