VIERA, Fla. — Dusty Baker has made it clear: Michael A. Taylor will play a lot this season. Jayson Werth, Ben Revere and Bryce Harper are the likely outfield starters, but they will be given regular time off and injuries are inevitable. Baker has said Revere will not play every day, so he has tried Taylor out at the leadoff spot, too.
Baker, who also loves basketball, often compares Taylor to a sixth man, the first player off the bench. He thinks Taylor can be like James Harden or Jamal Crawford, recent Sixth Man of the Year Award winners. And based on his spring — .485 (16 for 33) with three home runs and nine RBI — Taylor is making a case for substantial playing time.
“Not just for this year, I’ve got high hopes for his career,” Baker said recently. “I’m helping him. [Assistant hitting coach] Jacque [Jones is] helping him. And we’re teaching him every day, because he’s going to be a star. It’s just sometimes you’ve got to wait your turn and sometimes you’ve got to take your turn.”
Although he may not admit it, Baker has taken a particular interest in Taylor, getting to know him and offering hitting tips. During a game off, Taylor sat on the bench with Baker and talked for a few innings.
“All I can do is put a little icing on this,” Baker said. “God already gave him the talent.”
Taylor was rushed to the majors — as General Manager Mike Rizzo often says — because of Denard Span’s injuries. Taylor has strong tools — power, strong arm, speed — that shined last season despite the struggles. He hit 14 home runs and drove in 63 RBI, and he hit .317 with runners in scoring position, and he flew all over the outfield. But there were growing pains: 158 strikeouts, only 35 walks, a .229 batting average and some early hiccups in the field.
“They’re ahead of their graduating class, that would have gone to college or played minor league ball,” Baker said of young players such as Taylor, who is 24. “They’re playing with all upperclassmen. If you can hold your own and play good against upperclassmen, what about when your class gets here? You know you’re going to belong here by then.”
What stands out most to Baker is Taylor’s ability to hit to the opposite field. Taylor hit most of his home runs to left or center field last season, but has hit two line drives over the right field fence this spring.
“You can teach a kid how to pull,” Baker said. “It’s hard to teach a kid how to hit the other way, especially with authority. So that’s why his upside, to me, is so huge. Because he’s doing the hardest thing there is to teach: To hit the ball to the opposite field with authority.
“Everybody wants to change those kids: ‘He should pull the ball more, and this and that.’ No, no, no. Leave that kid alone. He’s already way, way, way ahead. Heck, we love this young man. What’s there not to love about him? I’m glad that we got four really good ones, and we might have five or six really good ones. That’s a pleasant situation to have.”
Baker and Nationals coaches continually urge Taylor to maintain his approach throughout an at-bat.
“Mikey has always hit the ball the other way,” hitting coach Rick Schu said. “The biggest thing with Mikey is adjustments. Even [Sunday], he swung through a fastball and just missed it. Then got a breaking ball – like ‘Oh man, big curveball’ – but he got short and ended up hitting it for a base hit. That’s what I’m talking about the mentality. … If he puts the ball in play more, he’ll hit for a higher average and do more damage.”
DAYS UNTIL OPENING DAY: 12