Nationals outfielder Michael A. Taylor heads to the field after he was stranded on base against the Astros on Tuesday. ) (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Asked to describe the real Michael A. Taylor — because teammates say Taylor’s personality takes time to reveal itself — third baseman Anthony Rendon chuckled. Then he asked for a minute, determined to find the right description of the young outfielder.

A few seconds later, Rendon said, “The silent assassin. That’s him.”

Over the course of 138 games in his rookie year, a workload no one would have expected before the season, Taylor showed a quick, smooth swing that sometimes surprised with monstrous power. He took direct routes to balls other outfielders might have missed with a dive and caught them at a jog.

As he grew more comfortable, Taylor also began to lob bits of wit at unsuspecting teammates, his low voice and his expression often indiscernible. On the field and in the clubhouse, Taylor is as Rendon described him: quiet but potent, unassuming but strong.

“He’s undercover, very polite. But behind that, it’s the dark side,” Gio Gonzalez said. “Mike is hilarious. He’s one of those guys who’s nonchalant and just hits you with these right-back-at-you comments.”

Injuries tossed Taylor into the center of the Washington Nationals’ outfield — and therefore the center of attention last spring. Before spring training, the expectation was that Taylor would play a season in Class AAA Syracuse to hone his swing and cut back on strikeouts. Then Denard Span went down, and suddenly Taylor’s education veered to on-the-job training.

The Nationals knew he might struggle offensively because he was working on making more contact in the minors and big league pitching doesn’t facilitate quick improvement. But they did not expect the top-rated defensive outfielder in their organization to struggle defensively, as he did with the sun and wind at Fenway Park, then with back-to-back errors in Philadelphia a few days later.

“Defense was kind of his calling card. Some players might have crumbled,” Nationals assistant general manager Doug Harris said. “He responded well.”

Taylor’s defense settled, and his offense proceeded about as expected: He hit 14 home runs, tied for eighth in a powerful rookie class. He also struck out in more than 30 percent of his at-bats, most in the National League.

“The main thing is, he has tremendous power,” Nationals Manager Dusty Baker said. “What we got to do is get something between the power . . . cut down strikeouts some and get some singles and doubles in between them in order to help us.”

But Taylor did not just boom and bust; he produced when it mattered. His strikeout rate dropped with runners in scoring position, and he hit .317 in those situations, tied for 11th in the National League. Nationals hitting coach Rick Schu remembered Taylor from the minor leagues as a young player with wildly fluctuating confidence.

“Last year, he really stayed consistent, got some huge hits for us. I was proud of him,” Schu said. “We were in the pennant race, and he grinded at-bats for us. I think if he can get that mentality to grind at-bats and not give in . . . I think if he can do that, he’s going to have a huge year.”

Taylor’s role in the Nationals’ outfield is unclear. Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper are locks in the corners. That leaves center field to some combination of Taylor and newly acquired top-of-the-order pest Ben Revere. Taylor said he didn’t hear about the deal that brought Revere to the Nationals until a long while after the news broke.

“It’s just something I can’t control. It’s a great addition to the team,” Taylor said. “He’s someone I can learn from, who’s been in the league for a while. Just keep going about my business. Trust the process.”

Taylor gives answers like that one, the ones public relations staffs would stamp with approval, whenever he’s asked about himself. He stands for every interview, makes eye contact with anyone he speaks to, understated and polite.

“He’s a high-character guy, and that’s who he is,” Harris said. “He has a very quiet sense of humor. He’s a gentle guy but a strong competitor. He just doesn’t share a lot of it at first glance.”

Taylor said he got more comfortable with interviews as last season went on and got so used to major league crowds that he doesn’t really hear them anymore. He also said he feels “more a part of the team” this season than early last year, and he looks it.

As Nationals outfielders go, Werth, Harper and Revere are louder personalities. Taylor is subtler, but as he has grown more comfortable, his personality has grown more apparent.

“Ever since I’ve known him, he’s been quiet, and I’ve known him since he was in ninth grade,” said outfielder Matt den Dekker, who played high school ball with Taylor at Westminster Academy in Florida. “But he’s actually not as quiet as he used to be. He’s kind of sneaky funny, makes little remarks, stuff you wouldn’t really expect from him.”

Taylor seems a likely choice to fill in for Werth and others in the outfield, a fourth outfielder with the ability to play every day who has sneaky speed and surprising power. He may not get as many at-bats as he did last season, and how he much he cuts down on strikeouts will influence his role this season and beyond.

“I just want to look back and know that I got better this year,” said Taylor, understated as always, quietly carrying the potential for more.