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Taylor odd man out in Nats' crowded outfield

Martinez says 27-year-old is still key part of team's future
September 22, 2018

WASHINGTON -- Over the years, Michael A. Taylor has been as much a part of the Nationals' lineup as anyone on the roster, with 460 games logged since 2015. Recently, however, those appearances have been few and far between for the outfielder.The Nationals' crowded outfield situation, which only grew more

WASHINGTON -- Over the years, Michael A. Taylor has been as much a part of the Nationals' lineup as anyone on the roster, with 460 games logged since 2015. Recently, however, those appearances have been few and far between for the outfielder.
The Nationals' crowded outfield situation, which only grew more congested with the arrival of heralded prospect Victor Robles, has left Taylor on the outside looking in down the stretch. He's started just four games since Aug. 24 and has just seven plate appearances in September, with his usage coming primarily as a pinch-runner or defensive replacement.
It's a far cry from his role in previous years, and one that he's been begrudgingly forced to accept.
"There's a lot of things that go through your mind," he said. "I think everyone wants to play, and I've had conversations with [manager] Davey [Martinez] about his plans, and I know those things change, so I just try to focus on the things that I can control and know. I want to continue to improve, so I'm trying to make the most out of this time right now."
Taylor is laboring through a poor offensive season, slashing .224/.286/.355 in 128 games, and, more pointedly, just 376 plate appearances. The Nationals have long been intrigued by Taylor's mix of speed and power, but he's never been able to consistently hit enough to truly cement a spot in the lineup despite Gold Glove-caliber defense.
To that end, Taylor is spending time working on revamping his swing, and using the fact that he isn't in the lineup to take extra swings in the cage and watch video of his at-bats.
"There are certain things that you don't really have time to do when you're playing every day," he said. "You can't really afford to take 300, 400 swings in the cage because it takes it out of you going into the game. I've noticed, I have quite a big leg kick and gain a lot of ground in my stride, and those are both things that make it harder to time the pitcher consistently. I've been working with the hitting coaches on simplifying things in my stride, shortening things up and trying to get things to a point where I can repeat it over and over."

While it feels like Taylor has been the forgotten man, Martinez is quick to note that he considers the outfielder to be a key part of the team's plans going forward.
"We've talked a lot," Martinez said. "I will go on record and say I'm a big Michael Taylor fan, I really am. I think he understands. He does a lot of good, positive things. He's working with [hitting coach] Kevin [Long] to change his swing a little bit and hopefully he comes into Spring Training with a different swing -- putting the ball in play a little bit more. I'm not asking him to go out and hit 20, 25 home runs. We just want him to put the ball in play and utilize his speed and talents, and if he can do that, he's going to help us win a lot of games in the future."
But will Taylor's future be with the Nationals? The 27-year-old is arbitration-eligible next season, and with the Washington outfield still in flux, he could be an ideal trade piece since he won't be eligible for free agency until 2021. Taylor admits the thought of appearing in a different uniform next year has come up as this season winds down.
"It's hard this late in the season not to think about it, and with the way things have been going lately, it looks like other people are thinking about it," he said. "It's definitely crossed my mind, but I don't know what the future holds for me, here or anywhere else. I don't think I'm a finished product. I'm not where I want to be, so continuing to work and get better every day is my main focus."

Elliott Smith is a contributor to MLB.com based in Washington.