Michael Anthony Taylor
Potomac Nationals (Washington Nationals)
Born: March 26, 1991 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Games Scouted: 8/7/11 (Double-Header), 4/28/12, 8/1/12
Michael Taylor is putting together an extraordinary professional baseball career. He’s a special player, but his skills are unheralded for his talent level. So, he has taken an uncommon path toward top-prospect stardom. A late-bloomer in high school, playing at Westminster Academy in his native Florida, big league scouts didn’t consider him one of the state’s top prospects until his senior season.
Despite his incredible athletic ability, with varsity letters in four different sports, Taylor didn’t receive offers from any big-name college programs. Second-Team All-State and All-Broward County honorable mention during his junior season, he commited (verbally) to the University of North Florida, to play shortstop for coach Dusty Rhodes’ Ospreys.
Only in the sunshine state, where the top amateur talent plays ball year-round, could a five-tool athlete like Michael Taylor draw second-rate attention from pro scouts. Early on, he played football, basketball, baseball and ran track at Westminster, a school residing in the very competitive Broward County circuit. Though he gave-up track after his sophomore year, to focus on baseball, his four-sport varsity career testifies to his extraordinary athletic ability.
His raw tools were always impressive, burning 6.6 and 6.7 second 60-yard dash times when he was 17, and pumping premium heat off the mound. However, his home-state is a baseball talent-factory. Taylor, a tools-first, skills-second player, got lost in the mix. A shortstop and pitcher, Taylor played the typical top-prospect positions in high school. Amateur clubs generally put their best athletes at short and pitcher. Playing in Florida though, Taylor had plenty of competition for center stage. Fellow prep products, Deven Marrero and Dane Williams often outshined Taylor on the Broward-prep scene. Both Marrero and Williams were 2009 First-Team All-Americans and both committed to a top Division-I program.
In the end, Taylor heard his name called before both Marrero and Williams on draft day. While signability concerns were primarily responsible for Marrero and Williams sliding down draft boards Taylor’s talent deserves credit as well. He grew and found himself as a player during his final high school seasons, and the Nationals took notice. As a junior, he helped lead the Lions to the state playoffs, before fully breaking-out with a glitzy senior campaign.
In his final Spring with the Lions, Taylor hit a monster .447 with 7 HR and 29 RBI. He grew taller and stronger. Armed with a cannon arm, racecar-fast wheels, and juice in his bat, he brought an awesome set of tools to the diamond. His body control and smooth actions at shortstop even made a professional future at the position appear very possible. On the mound, he pitched well too, hitting 90 mph with his fastball. Rawlings named him to their Pre-Season Florida Region All High School Senior second team and he also took home all-state second-team honors.
Even after his impressive senior season, Taylor wasn’t touted as a top prospect pre-draft. Despite his success and physical gifts, Michael’s game was raw and he wasn’t getting enough national exposure to seriously warrant a top draft pick. The Nationals saw something in him though. More than just an athlete, they saw a future star. The Nationals invited the young ballplayer to a private workout. Taylor impressed the Nats’ scouts with his remarkable athleticism and his gregarious but humble attitude. Washington drafted him in the sixth-round of the 2009 Amateur Draft. A few weeks later, the kid passed on his UNF committment and signed a $125K bonus.
When the Nationals drafted Taylor, they knew they were buying-in on a player development project–a premium athlete with sky-high potential, stone hands and an awkward swing. So, Taylor didn’t surprise anybody when he struggled during his first professional season. He made an ice-cold debut in the Gulf Coast League and finished the season floundering at class-A Hagerstown. In the field, he made thirteen errors in 19 games at shortstop, and didn’t display the aptitude for third or second base. His work at the plate was just as bad. He posted an ugly .199/.276/.298 triple-slash line through 43 games, with more strikeouts (33) than hits (28).
2011 was a very different story for Taylor. During the 2010-2011 offseason, Taylor worked tirelessly to hone his swing and pitch recognition. Working with Hagerstown Suns hitting coach Marlon Anderson, and his manager Brian Daubauch, he shortened his stride at the plate, and clean-up his hands, making him quicker, and shorter to the baseball. He also agreed to move off shortstop, and learn the outfield. Though he lacked the soft hands, low center of gravity and fluid actions for shortstop, Taylor’s athleticism and speed fit an up-the-middle defensive position. His body control and arm strength made centerfield a natural landing spot. Taking instruction from Nats’ minor league coordinator Tony Tarasco and his other coaches, Taylor took the field in 2011 as the Suns’ new centerfielder and a drastically different player.
A cleaner, easier swing and a new defensive home did wonders for Taylor’s confidence and overall performance. Playing in A-ball at just twenty-years-old, he hit .253/.301/.432 and belted 46 extra-base hits in 442 at bats. Improving as the season went on, he hit .291 with a .351 on-base percentage in the second-half. He started hitting the ball with authority more often, flashing plus raw power to his pull-side.
The speed he had previously flashed during high showcases started to appear in games too. After stealing just one base in three attempts the previous season, he swiped 23 bags and used his wheels to leg-out seven triples. His turnaround was incredible. Playing at a higher level, in full-season ball, he posted an OPS that was 160 points higher than his instructional league mark the year before.
Taylor impressed with his work in the batter’s box in 2011, but actually did his best work in the outfield. In his first season playing in the outfield–amateur or professional– Michael looked like he belonged there. At times, he looked even better, like his trophy case already sports a Gold Glove or two. He used his arm to gun-down sixteen baserunners and turn a pair of double-plays. His all-out fearless style garnered favor from his coaches. Gliding from gap to gap with plus speed, he turned nearly anything hit in the air up the middle in to an out. Of course, Taylor was prone to the occasional error or rookie mistake, but for his age and experience level, his overall play was nothing short of spectacular. The rest of the organization fell in love with him by season’s end, and the club’s GM Mike Rizzo even tabbed him as their centerfielder of the future.
This season, while playing with the Carolina League’s Potomac Nationals, Taylor has taken another step forward. He has essentially solidified his place among the top outfield prospects in the game. In the field, he’s been a ball-hawk, chasing down deep flies in the thick, humid air of the mid-Atlantic coast. Through 102 games, he’s racked-up an incredible twenty outfield assists, doubling-off seven in the process. At the plate, he started off slowly for the second straight year, but has turned it around and turned it on during the summer months. Since the beginning of July, Taylor has hit .290/.339/.471, raising his 2012 line to .247/.325/.373. After hitting thirteen homeruns last season, he has just three so far this year. However, he’s already mashed thirty-three doubles and collected thirty-nine extra-base hits through 365 at bats. Fighting through the homerun killing Carolina League air, he’s still demonstrating above-average power potential. His numbers don’t say star just yet, but all of the ingredients are there.
Fielding and Arm Strength
Taylor is blessed with an array of baseball skills packaged inside of an NFL wide receiver’s body. He’s a phenomenal athlete and one of the best in the minor leagues. His athletic gifts not only play well at the plate, but they also make him a top-shelf defensive player. He could earn a call-up to the Major Leagues on his glovework alone. He has great vision, and though he’s only spent a short time in the outfield, he makes flyball reads like a veteran. He reacts to contact like an NFL free safety reading a deep pass. He effortlessly glides toward either gap. Sporting a long, fluid stride and remarkable body control, Taylor tracks liners and fading drives while on the dead-sprint, and gracefully makes running catches from all angles. His flyball routes are also surprising direct, and he attacks sinking line-drives with confidence. His long-leg speed is ideal for the position, and he can run-down almost anything up hit up the middle. He moves back on the ball well, making over-the-shoulder catches without sacrificing his routes or his balance. He already knows how to play the wall, and has handled his expansive home park outfield well this season.
Taylor’s pure arm strength rates at least plus, and he can light-up 90 MPH on the radar gun. He’s responded to criticism about some awkward mechanics and a long release by cleaning up his arm action, and he’s become much more accurate this season as a result. Flat-out, his arm is a weapon, and he’s racked up thirteen assists from centerfield over the past two seasons. His throws show good carry and he throws through the cut-off man. Combined with the rest of his defensive tools, Michael’s hand cannon makes him one of the elite centerfield prospects in the game and a possible Gold Glove winner in the MLB.
Hitting and Power
Like his defense, Taylor’s hitting has come a long way throughout the past couple of years. He came to the Nationals in 2010 with hand-eye coordination, superior bat speed and a slugger’s build, but was a hefty coaching project fundamentally. When he started his professional career in the instructional league, his long stride hurt his timing and sapped power from his swing. Extra lower-body movement hurt his vision, and his head was popping-up in the middle of his cut. Now, almost three seasons later, he’s a starkly different hitter. His swing is fluid, compact and quiet. He whips the bat through the zone on a razor-sharp path. He’s still an unfinished product of course, but he’s also a much more polished hitter, armed with power and contact skills.
When Taylor steps up to the plate, he sets-up with a wide, open stance. In his first pro season, Michael started very wide, and took a very long stride during his weigh-transfer. As a result, his short stroke and quick hands were victimized by his inefficient lower-body timing, and his swing path was weak and loopy. In an effort to improve his power and timing, he’s moved his feet a little bit closer together this season, and has abbreviated his once long stride to a shorter, more controlled toe-tap. As a result, his back leg is firmer and stronger through contact, and he’s developed much sturdier, line-drive power. Rather than hitting off his back leg like he used to, he attacks the baseball with a much shorter, more explosive cut. Now that he’s improved his timing and is planting his front-foot earlier, he’s better utilizing his above-average bat speed, and also improving his pitch recognition and reaction time. Taking a hefty but compact stroke, he loads and fires smoothly and quickly, getting on top of pitches in all quadrants of the zone. He can catch-up to premium velocity already, and will punish the hard stuff middle-in.
Taylor’s athleticism is evident in his swing. He takes a remarkably compact cut, firing his hands directly to the baseball. At the point of contact, his back elbow makes a perfect power-L. He drops the bat-head slightly and using his hips and core to whip his back-hand through the baseball. Pulling the handle in toward his belt buckle, he whips the barrel of the bat through the zone with nasty velocity, generating tremendous power. Once he adds more muscle to his lower body and firms up his base, Taylor could rack-up extra-base hits and hit 20-25 homeruns annually in the MLB.
They weren’t soft enough to field groundballs cleanly at shortstop, but at the plate, Taylor’s hands are his best attribute. He’s ridiculously short to the baseball, with strong hitter’s hands and loose wrists. He starts his hands close to the hitting position, allowing him to load smoothly and take a clear path to the ball. As he rocks his body forward, he keeps his hands back, showing textbook hand-body separation. As his front hip opens, his hands stay back, allowing him to employ his core and trunk in his swing. He then explodes to the ball, pulling his hands in toward his belt buckle and whipping the bat head through the zone. He doesn’t always complete his follow-through, and will tend to finish low, but his bat speed and ability to stay inside the ball generates homerun exit velocity consistently. Firming-up his back leg has helped him stay on top of the ball more, and once he adds more muscle to his frame and learns to finish his follow-through, he’ll mature in to a very dangerous hitter.
Though he hasn’t hit for a high average throughout his pro career, Taylor has the tools to develop in to at least a solid-average hitter with 20-25 HR power. His hand-eye coordination is tremendous, and he moves his hands directly to the ball, on a very short, smooth path. The ingredients for a quality batting average are essentially pitch recognition, bat control and bat-speed. Taylor offers all of these attributes, boasting excellent bat speed, strong hands and at least descent pitch recognition skills. Despite his age and experience level, he makes hard contact in all parts of the strikezone, and can handle quality breaking stuff. He obviously prefers to show-off his plus bat-speed and line-drive power by smashing fastballs to left-field, but he isn’t just a dead-pull hitter. His bat-control is developing quickly, and he’s becoming more comfortable using his strong hands to shorten-up and poke line-drives to right-center. With long legs and arms, he gets great extension across the outer-half of the plate, and once he learns to handle same-side breaking stuff, he should grow into some dangerous opposite-field power. He’s working on his plate discipline and pitch recognition, as he’s often too aggressive early in the count. If he can develop a better feel for the strikezone, he should be able to cut down on the strikeouts and raise his batting average.
Taylor is blessed with Ferrari wheels, and he’s arguably the fastest runner in the Nationals’ system– even over Eury Perez. With long legs and a narrow, lean build, he absolutely flies out of the box, turning-ing sub four-second homeplate-to-first-base times from the right side. He carries his all-out style in the outfield over to the rest of his game, hustling to first base with explosive acceleration. Combined with his full-tilt motor, his plus-plus speed allows him to beat-out infield hits, and once he learns to bunt, he’ll be a pain for opposing managers to deal with.
On the basepaths, Michael has the makings of a first-rate base stealer. He shows a lightning-quick first step, moving from his lead in to an all-out sprint with the flip of a switch. He moves smoothly in to a head-first slide, and knows how to avoid tags. He also moves first-to-third well, driving through the bag as he rounds the bases and using his fluidity to optimize his distance from point to point. He can swipe a bag in any situation, but doesn’t try to steal unless it’s necessary.
Defensively, Taylor could play in the big leagues right now. It’s a different story on the other side of the ball. Taylor lacks polish at the plate and on the basepaths. Though improving, his swing mechanics are still raw. In order to carry his raw power in to the game, he needs to improve his balance and do a better job of incorporating his legs in his swing. He also needs to be far more selective at the plate. He doesn’t work the count well, and puts too many pitchers’ pitches in play. He has the hands and vision to make quality contact consistently, but his overly-aggressive approach kills batting average. He’s struck out 266 times in 965 professional at bats and he’s already totalled 113 whiffs in 108 games this season.
Taylor’s sharp vision, quick hands and plus bat speed allow him to fall back in to bad habits, as he’ll rely on his tremendous tools to compensate for poor fundamentals.He knows how to wait on offspeed and drive same-side breaking pitches, but smart pitchers know how to exploit his impatient approach, pitching him soft and outside. He hits right-handers well, and clearly owns the inner-half of the plate, but his trouble reading offspeed outside has killed his average against cautious southpaws.
Taylor often wastes his burner speed on the basepaths with late jumps and bad reads. He’s gotten gunned-down twenty-one times in sixty-three stolen base attempts throughout the past two seasons, a rate that won’t play well at higher levels. His leads appear to tentative at times, a sign he’s uncomfortable reading pitchers.
Taylor is a tools prospect, and at just twenty-one years old, his stats have yet to illustrate his talent level. However, throughout the past two seasons, he’s improved and developed dramatically, beginning to carry his raw power and speed in to games. His isolated power (ISO) has improved steadily since the beginning of the 2011 season, and he’s now an above-average slugger. Even in the Carolina League’s thick air, he’s managed to put together impressive extra-base hit totals, with thirty-eight in 429 plate appearances this season.
Taylor continues to refine his swing and improve his pitch recognition and overall approach at the plate. After walking in 6.6% of his plate appearances in 2011, he’s drawing a walk 9.5% of the time this year. Also, while he’s still very prone to striking out, he’s improved his walk to strikeout ratio overall, up from a 0.27 BB/K (2011) to a 0.35 mark in 2012. His on-base percentage is still so-so, with a .306 career-mark. However, his ugly .270 OBP in the instructional league in 2010 skews his career numbers unfairly. He posted a .310 OBP and a .330 weighted on-base percentage (wOBA) in the South Atlantic League last season. Facing older and more advanced competition in the Carolina League in 2012, he’s posted a .316 OBP to date and has hovered around the league mark of .327 for most of the season.
Taylor is the Nationals’ centerfielder of the future. He’s a spectacular athlete, blessed with all of the ingredients necessary for stardom. Boasting top-of-the-scale speed, a cannon arm and big league homerun power, he offers a canvas for the Nats’ player development team to work with and the type of star-powered ceiling that few prospects can offer. Just twenty-one years old, he’s raw, no doubt about it. Though improving, his stats and game performance don’t match his pure ability. But, he’s drastically improved his game throughout the past season and a half and he’s learning at a whirlwind pace. A testament not only to talent, but also to his hard work and aptitude for the game, he’s over-hauled his work at the plate and in the field. He moved from shortstop to the outfield less than two seasons ago, yet he’s already evolving in to one of the best defensive centerfielders in the minor leagues. At the plate, his cleaner, shorter swing is already paying-off with a hefty boost in power and bat control.
If Michael can tighten up his approach at the plate and continue to refine his swing, he could develop in to an Adam Jones-type centerfielder– a Gold Glove caliber fielder with above-average power and speed. Even if he doesn’t make good on his promising potential, however, his defensive ability and athleticism is more than strong enough to give him a career as a glove-first centerfielder a la Gerald Williams or Franklin Gutierrez.