Right-handed-hitting Michael Taylor hit .447 with seven home runs during his senior season as a shortstop at Westminster Academy in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The Washington Nationals selected the highly athletic infielder with their sixth-round selection in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. The Nationals may have uncovered a real gem with overall pick No. 172 in that June's annual talent hunt.
To date, Taylor's professional career as a shortstop has consisted of only 19 games. He played all of those as a rookie for the Nats' Gulf Coast League club in 2010. Taylor was promoted to Class A Hagerstown for a week in September, but he spent his few defensive games there as a first baseman. In his rookie year, Taylor spent time at first base, second base, shortstop and third base. Taylor finished the year going to the plate 164 times and hitting a combined .199.
The following year, Taylor returned to Hagerstown for the entire season, converting from the infield to playing every outfield position. Playing 92 of his 126 games in center field, Taylor hit .253 with 26 doubles, seven triples and 13 home runs among his 112 hits. He also featured one of his best tools, stealing 23 bases using excellent speed and long strides from his well-proportioned tall and slender 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame. Still only 23, Taylor has room for additional growth.
Taylor has played in parts of five seasons in the Nationals' Minor League system. Last year, playing at Class A Advanced Potomac in his second consecutive season at that classification, Taylor really put his speed and power combination on display. He hit 41 doubles, six triples, 10 home runs and stole 51 bases, while being caught stealing only seven times. It was a fantastic year, as Taylor finished with a .263 batting average while driving in 87 runs.
I saw Taylor, who ranks No. 3 on the Nats' Top 20 Prospect list, play in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game this past July. He hit in the leadoff position and played center field for the U.S. team. Taylor played the entire game and got a single off the Giants' Edwin Escobar in four trips to the plate.
A bit aggressive at the plate, Taylor is a five-tool player, with game-changing power and speed heading the list of his skills. His least developed tool is reflected by inconsistent contact that results in a questionable hitting tool. That said, there is enough projectable hitting to consider the skill a favorable tool. Taylor has shown solid improvement in his batting average this season, a result of hard work and natural progression in his development. Hitting well, Taylor was promoted to the big leagues on Sunday after spending just four games at Triple-A Syracuse.
Strikeouts have been an issue in Taylor's career. He projects to keep improving his batting average and smoothing out his swing mechanics. Taylor has quieted and shortened his swing a bit, and he has made some adjustments to the way he uses his lower body in his approach. With long limbs, Taylor has to be diligent to get the most from his legs and hips and be certain to adjust his weight properly in his stride. Using quick hands through the ball, he could stand to recognize pitches more quickly and make a quicker decision to swing or pass. Continued adjustments are necessary -- especially against offspeed breaking balls that pitchers like to use against power hitters like Taylor.
Rangy and nimble, Taylor is still a bit inconsistent in his initial reads of the ball off the bat on defense. However, his speed and long strides allow him to quickly close on a ball in the air and make up ground. Taylor has Major League-quality arm strength with some inconsistent accuracy. Moving forward, Taylor projects to become a very solid center-field option, with more power than usual for the position and the ability to become a good field general.
As a low-risk former sixth-round Draft pick, Taylor is poised to offer high reward to the Nationals. He projects as a fine Major League outfielder capable of breaking open a game with his bat or contributing with game-changing speed and above-average athletic ability.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter.