The Nationals officially called up outfield prospect Michael A. Taylor from Class AAA Syracuse on Sunday afternoon and placed another outfield prospect, Steven Souza Jr., on the 15-day disabled list with a left shoulder contusion. Souza hurt his shoulder slamming into the right field wall at Turner Field on Friday night and appeared in Saturday’s game but only as a pinch runner in the 11th inning.
Souza reported feeling better on Saturday afternoon but still wasn’t sure if he was ready to swing a bat. Only two innings into this stint in the majors and his second-ever big league start, Souza crashed into the right field wall trying to rob a home run. He left the game in the next inning.
The Nationals’ outfield has been depleted by injuries of late. Jayson Werth has been dealing an inflamed shoulder and Nate McLouth landed on the disabled list last week. The Nationals couldn’t afford to continue playing essentially without two players so they turned to Taylor, who is making his first-ever trip to the big leagues.
“It’s been my goal since I was about 3 years old to finally get a chance to be here and make a dream come true,” Taylor said.
With Werth limited by his shoulder and Souza unable to swing, the Nationals needed a healthy outfielder. Tyler Moore, who is also on the 40-man roster and has served stints in the majors, is capable of playing first base and left field. But the Nationals needed an outfielder who could play center field — so that Williams can give Denard Span a day off soon — and right field for Werth late in games as a defensive replacement.
Williams said he didn’t want to disrupt Span’s 35-game on-base streak and 13-game hitting streak, but at some point he wants to make sure to give the center fielder a day to rest.
“Mike can play out there,” Williams said. “He can play all three, really. It gives us an opportunity to move Bryce [Harper] around in that regard, too. That’s how I envision it [for Taylor]: Pinch-hitting opportunities, an occasional start, go from there.”
Taylor, listed at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, is rated by MLB.com as the Nationals’ top outfield prospect and enjoying a breakout season. The 23-year-old athletic outfielder was invited to big league spring training this year and took off at Class AA Harrisburg. With the Senators, he hit .313/.396/.539 with 22 home runs and 34 stolen bases. Although he struck out 130 times, he hit the ball hard and for considerable power. He learned to make better adjustments from at-bat to at-bat, and even pitch to pitch.
“I feel pretty comfortable right now,” he said. “There’s definitely still a lot I need to learn and I have at-bats where I make adjustments and I have at-bats where I make mistakes. I definitely feel more confident when I go up there every time and thinking I can get a hit.”
Taylor was promoted to Syracuse last week when Souza was called up to majors. In four games with Syracuse, Taylor went 5 for 13 with three doubles and four walks. Along with top prospect Lucas Giolito, Taylor represented the Nationals in the MLB Future’s Game last month. “I’ve put in quite a few miles these past few weeks,” Taylor said.
When he arrived in Syracuse last week, he had no idea the majors was within reach this quickly. “I wasn’t even thinking about it,” he said. “I was just excited to be there. Now I’m here. It’s pretty crazy.”
Taylor was selected as a shortstop in the sixth round of the 2009 draft and converted to the outfield in 2011. Taylor has exceptional speed, a good feel for jumps and a strong arm. Nationals Manager Matt Williams rated Taylor as an 80 defender on the 20 to 80 scouting scale in spring training. Talent evaluators have said Taylor could step into a major league game today and play strong defense.
The Nationals had been waiting for Taylor’s bat to catch up to his standout defense and it did this season. Last season, he was repeating Class A Potomac and posted a .263/.340/.426 slash line with 10 home runs and 131 strikeouts. Only a year later, he jumped all the way up to the majors.
“It was definitely tough going through the [offensive] struggles,” he said. “Really, the first few years. I’m grateful that it’s happened because I’ve learned a lot from it. It taught me a lot about the game and what I’m trying to do at the plate. I think it was necessary and best.”
Taylor was told of his call-up by the Syracuse coaching staff. At first, Syracuse Manager Billy Gardner Jr. told Taylor he had been scratched from the game for not running out a groundball the other day as a joke. Later, Taylor was given the real news. It was too late for his parents to book a trip to Atlanta but he hopes they will see him soon enough.
Taylor was so excited that he arrived at Turner Field at around 11 a.m., coming here straight from the airport. The game wasn’t until 8 p.m. and the coaches, always first to arrive, showed up at 3 p.m. He walked around the outfield with bullpen catcher Sammy Palace in the late afternoon and took photos.
“I talked to a couple guys like [Aaron] Barrett who told me just to take it in and breathe and try to enjoy the moment,” Taylor said. “So I’m trying to do that and making the best of it.”
Souza left the Nationals on Sunday and will return to Washington to have his shoulder examined. He is slated to undergo an MRI. He underwent some tests on Saturday and, according to Williams, Souza couldn’t swing. He entered Saturday’s game as a pinch runner for Werth in the 11th inning.
“It’s getting better, but if he’s not able to play, then we have to make a change and take a serious look at it,” Williams said. “He hit that wall pretty hard, man.”