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Taylor driven to eclipse breakout campaign

Budding Nats star entrenched in CF, but top prospect Robles waiting in wings
MLB.com @JamalCollier

WASHINGTON -- One of the Nationals' biggest breakout performers last season was Michael A. Taylor, who grabbed hold of his opportunity to play center field every day after Adam Eaton's torn ACL and showed signs of the five-tool prospect the team had touted for years.

Washington had been waiting for this sort of performance from Taylor since his Major League debut in 2014. Each of the previous three seasons, he had been given the chance to take over as the starting center fielder following an injury, first to Denard Span in '15 then to Ben Revere in '16. Then, Taylor put it all together in '17 when he posted 3.1 Wins Above Replacement while hitting .271/.320/.486 with 19 home runs and 17 stolen bases while also being named a finalist for a Rawlings Gold Glove Award.

WASHINGTON -- One of the Nationals' biggest breakout performers last season was Michael A. Taylor, who grabbed hold of his opportunity to play center field every day after Adam Eaton's torn ACL and showed signs of the five-tool prospect the team had touted for years.

Washington had been waiting for this sort of performance from Taylor since his Major League debut in 2014. Each of the previous three seasons, he had been given the chance to take over as the starting center fielder following an injury, first to Denard Span in '15 then to Ben Revere in '16. Then, Taylor put it all together in '17 when he posted 3.1 Wins Above Replacement while hitting .271/.320/.486 with 19 home runs and 17 stolen bases while also being named a finalist for a Rawlings Gold Glove Award.

"I was happy, I felt like I made some strides in my game," Taylor said. "Every year I try to learn from my mistakes and continue to move forward in my career. I felt like I made some adjustments that were necessary."

Video: Check out Taylor collecting eight RBIs vs. Cubs

Taylor has been coy about what exactly those adjustments were. He simply attributes his success to relaxing more and not trying to overthink things at the plate. His plate discipline numbers stayed virtually the same, with his walk, strikeout and chase rates (6.7, 31.7 and 30.2 percent, respectively) all right in line with his career numbers (6.6, 31.8, 31.3 percent).

When he did make contact, however, Taylor drove the ball with more power. His isolated power numbers improved from .145 in 2016 to .210 in '17, and he improved on his launch angle numbers and fly ball numbers. Perhaps under new hitting coach Kevin Long, Taylor will be able to further take advantage of the philosophy of hitting the ball in the air to continue to improve next season.

Taylor is also not satisfied after last season, saying he still wants to improve on "a little bit of everything."

"Mainly continue to cut down on the strikeouts," he said. "And trying to work on putting the ball in play early in the count and then things will build off there. Whether it's stealing more bags, and defense is something that I'm always trying to work on and throws and things like that."

Video: Must C Clutch: Taylor extends lead with grand slam

After Taylor's breakout season, the Nationals must wonder exactly what kind of player he will become. He will begin next season as the team's starting center fielder, shifting Eaton to left field, but top Nats prospect Victor Robles -- MLB Pipeline's No. 3 prospect in the Majors -- is waiting in the wings as an everyday outfielder.

That has made Taylor an intriguing potential trade prospect this offseason. Plenty of teams have asked about him in trade talks, but the Nationals seem intent on holding on to Taylor for now.

"We like him," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "He's a really good, dynamic, impactful player that we have under control for a long time and that's priced very nicely for us.

"He's another guy that we drafted and developed. We drafted [him] as a shortstop, developed him as an outfielder, he's come a long way for us and I think he's just scratching the surface."

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals, Michael A. Taylor