Q&A with Michael Taylor

Washington Nationals v Atlanta Braves

This post originally appeared on Banished to the Pen, a collective blog organized by fans of Effectively Wild: The Daily Podcast from Baseball Prospectus. Please check it out for internal discussions on baseball, stats, and fandom.

You’ll excuse Michael Taylor if he doesn’t come across as one of the top prospects in baseball. You see, it’s not uncommon for someone in his position to be self-centered and wear a certain arrogance on their sleeve for all to see.

Not Taylor. The soft-spoken 23-year old outfielder is so incredibly polite and respectful that you think you’re the one on the precipice of a bright Major League career, and he’s here to find out about you, rather than the other way around.

But don’t let that fool you. The Washington Nationals’ 2009 sixth-round pick *out of Fort Lauderdale, FL) is a force to be reckoned with between the lines. In 2014, he posted a .304/.390/.526 slash line with 23 home runs and 37 stolen bases in the upper levels of the minors.

Taylor, ranked the Nationals’ #3 prospect by Baseball Prospectus, made his MLB debut on August 12th. He went 2-for-4 against the New York Mets including his first career home run.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Taylor to discuss that game, meeting Hank Aaron, and how he handles the expectations moving forward into 2015.

Mayflies: Last year was a breakout season for you. How do you follow that up in 2015?

Michael Taylor: I’m still just trying to improve on every aspect of the game. I think one of the main focuses this year will be my two-strike approach. I think a big part of that is making contact early in the count so I get to [fewer] two-strike counts. That’s something I’m really trying to focus in on this year.

Mayflies: In your Major League debut, you singled up the middle during your first at-bat. How much did that help you settle down?

MT: Yeah, talking about two strikes. So I got to two strikes in my first at-bat, and I’m just thinking I can’t strike out in my first at-bat. I was able to put the bat on the ball and see what happens when you put the ball in play. It squeaked through the infield and it was nice to just get that first hit out of the way.

Mayflies: You were called up on a Sunday and met the team in Atlanta. Then you traveled to New York and had an off-day on Monday before you were placed into the lineup for your debut at Citi Field. Was it nice to have that time to get your feet under you?

MT: I definitely think it was helpful in getting there on Sunday and seeing how the day to day goes, watching the game, and being in the dugout. It kind of relaxed me a little bit. Monday, I didn’t feel too anxious or anything about the game because I didn’t know if I was going to be in there or not. It was my first time in New York City so it was cool to have a day off there and walk around a little bit.

Mayflies: Is the day a blur once you found out you were starting?

MT: There’s definitely some moments that are a little fuzzy just because I was going 100 miles per hour. My mind was racing. People ask me all the time what I was thinking about while I was running around the bases [after the home run] and that’s definitely a moment where I was out of body. I wasn’t thinking about anything. I think the only thing I said to myself was, “Don’t smile,” when I was running around the bases. So, yeah, that whole day was very exciting for me.

Mayflies: Can you even compare the experiences between the Major and minor leagues?

MT: I think it’s much different. The ballparks are obviously different. The clubhouses are different. The crowds that you see will be bigger. No bus rides. There’s a lot of things that change once you get to the big leagues. They say it’s the same game, and it is still baseball. Those guys are there for a reason and the competition is a step up.

Mayflies: Is it a matter of trying to shut out all the other stuff and play the game as you’ve always played it?

MT: I think that was something that was tough for me. You see how it’s different in so many ways, but those changes that you see don’t really affect too much of what happens on the field where I was just trying to calm myself down. It’s still 60 feet, six inches. The pitcher still has to throw it over the plate. It’s still just a regular fly ball and all those things like that.

Mayflies: So they didn’t come out and measure the distance like in “Hoosiers”…You had the chance to meet Hank Aaron when you guys played a series in Atlanta in September. What does it mean to have an opportunity to meet all these people that you’ve looked up to or are legends of this game?

MT: It’s really special. Any time I get a chance to meet someone like that I’m always going to try and steal some wisdom or knowledge or anything I can pick up from them. That was pretty cool. I did ask, joking, but still serious at the same time, “What’s the trick? What’s the key to hitting?” He just said, “A lot of confidence,” which was cool because that’s very true, and actually hard to do sometimes when you’re striking out a lot or going through an 0-fer skid.

mt and hank

Mayflies: You were with the Nationals during the home stretch last season and you got to experience the playoffs from the dugout. Since you’ve already been through it now, does that help you for the next time when it’s not so new?

MT: I think it helps a lot. There is a change in the atmosphere during the playoffs. Just like when you go up to the big leagues, you see the change. When you go the playoffs, you see how things change a little bit so you’re not surprised when you get there.

Mayflies: Last year was your first time playing in the winter leagues and you dominated in Puerto Rico. This year you’re not playing. What goes into that decision?

MT: A lot of times, it’s a decision made by the club, whether you were injured and they want you to get a few more at-bats, or there’s a few things they want you to work out. So they send you down there to get a little more work. I was very happy to have the opportunity to go down there. There are just a few teams and fewer spots for what they call imports. So to have that opportunity was pretty special and the team did very well which was even better.

Mayflies: A couple of weekends ago you were down in D.C. at the Rookie Career Development Program. What is it and what kind of insight did you pick up?

MT: It’s just a program where they educate first-year 40-man guys. It deals with things like conduct in the clubhouse, dealing with media, or conduct off the baseball field. Things to protect you and educate you on ways to make the right decisions. It’s definitely helpful. I think they do a great job, because they’re not only bringing in professionals from every field, but they also have former big-league players to share their experiences that they saw when they were playing.

Mayflies: Looking ahead to this season, Steven Souza was traded and Jayson Werth’s recovery from surgery have many people in NatsTown penciling you into the lineup on Opening Day. How much of that can you block out and not get caught up in?

MT: It’s definitely not easy to do. But it’s something that I think is necessary, because ultimately, those things can be distractions from what I need to do to be ready and what I need to do to put myself in a position to have success on the field. My parents love it and it’s nice to hear your name and see the articles, but at the same time I have to focus on what is right in front of me and what I can control.

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Many questions and no real answers for our new pitch clock overlords

pitch clock

In an effort to speed up the game, Double-A and Triple-A teams were notified on Wednesday that pitch clocks will be installed and used for the upcoming season. Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner confirmed that each ballpark amongst the upper levels will have three clocks installed with two behind home plate and a third in the outfield.

The 20-second pitch clocks were one component of the numerous pace of play initiatives Major League Baseball implemented this past fall in the Arizona Fall League. Although specifics over what will all be included in the new rules for 2015 are yet to be determined, other regulations used in the AFL dealt with a timed break between innings, limiting the number of manager visits to the mound, and restricting batters to remain in the batter’s box.

I have so many questions…

Why isn’t the biggest problem in pace of play at the MLB level being addressed?

Everyone knows the biggest contributor to the long games are the frequency and length of commercial breaks. But I wouldn’t hold my breath over MLB killing that cash cow any time soon.

Why can’t the ways to speed up the game outside of the actual game be exhausted before we change anything between the white lines?

I have no idea. At this rate, it’s only a matter of time before a courtesy runner for the catcher becomes mandatory.

How will the pitch clocks actually work?

Your guess is as good as mine. In the press release for the Arizona Fall League, it stated “beginning the motion of coming to the set position shall be sufficient to stop the clock.” However, that wasn’t true at all. If a pitcher did not actually start his motion home (or a pickoff attempt) within the 20 seconds, the umpire assessed him a ball. Now imagine a runner or runners on base knowing full well that a pitcher can’t really use the “step off” or hold the ball to throw off timing anymore. In fact, smart baserunners can anticipate the 20 second clock like a linebacker jumping the line if he knows the snap count.

Why is this being implemented at only the AA and AAA levels?

If MLB was interested in the long play they should implement these rules at the rookie-level and gradually expand it over the next five years up the various levels of minors. That way players who move up the chain will already be familiar with the rules instead of a constant re-programming of their tendencies at Double-A. The only reason I can come up with is that MLB plans to push this for implementation in the major leagues in 2016 and needs to educate the next wave of rookies this year.

How many sides of their mouth is baseball talking out of?

Too many to keep track of. In one breath they are claiming poverty against the evils of minor leaguers seeking a fair wage and in the next they are requiring teams to incur new costs for these pitch clocks. Although the physical clocks and their installation will be covered by MLB, minor league teams are being forced to cover the cost of a full-time operator who needs to attend seminars and educational instruction.

That already creates a bigger fiscal impact on minor league teams than any outcome of the class action lawsuits filed by former players would. But don’t tell that to MiLB VP Stan Brand who urged his minions to “heed the clarion call (and) man the battle stations.” He believes that the lawsuits endanger the “future of minor league baseball and their communities investments in stadia and infrastructure” despite costing actual MiLB teams NOTHING (since player salaries and benefits are completely covered by the major league organizations).

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Projected Roster Version 1.0

Players are a little over a month away from their report date and spring training is right around the corner. Why not take a first stab at what the Senators’ opening day roster might look like? Without any kind of insider information, I’m basing these guesses on who’s currently under contract and player placement from the major league level down.

Things can obviously change between now and opening day with free agent signings, injuries, player releases, and the option of extended spring training.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments.

joeross

Starting Rotation
LHSP Felipe Rivero

RHSP Joe Ross (pictured)
RHSP John Simms
LHSP Matthew Spann
RHSP Austin Voth

Will the Nationals’ #1 rated prospect Lucas Giolito take the path of Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper and skip Potomac? Maybe…but they didn’t seem in a rush to move him through the system last year, so I’m not sure why they’d do it now.

As far as who is listed above, Joe Ross could be the prize of the three-team trade that sent Steven Souza to Tampa. Keep your eye on the 6’4″ righty as he takes the mound every fifth day for the Senators.

Bullpen
RHRP Colin Bates
RHRP Robert Benincasa
LHRP Richard Bleier
RHRP Paul Demny
RHRP Brian Dupra
RHRP Gilberto Mendez
RHRP Abel de los Santos
RHRP James Simmons
LHRP Kylin Turnbull

Catchers
C Pedro Severino
C Cole Leonida

renda

Infielders
3B Mario Lisson
UT Jason Martinson
SS Stephen Perez
1B Shawn Pleffner
2B Tony Renda (pictured)
UT Adrian Sanchez

There’s a good chance that Harrisburg will have a completely revamped infield this season with three promotions and one veteran free agent signing.

cleary
Outfielders
OF/1B Kevin Keyes
OF Drew Vettleson
OF Delta Cleary (pictured)
OF Caleb Ramsey

Is Ike Ballou ready for Double-A after only 33 games at Potomac? If he isn’t, the Nationals signed former Rockies’ farmhand Cleary as an insurance policy to patrol center field.

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Daubach looking foward to a better season in 2015

On Thursday afternoon, the Washington Nationals announced their 2015 minor league coaching assignments. As a whole the organization made very few changes to their assignments from last year to this.

Harrisburg Senators manager Brian Daubach welcomes back most of the staff from 2014 as pitching coach Chris Michalak, hitting coach Mark Harris, trainer Eric Montague and strength coach Tony Rogowski are all returning to City Island.

daubach

Photo by Jadrian Klinger / Harrisburg Magazine

 

I had an opportunity to speak with Daubach earlier today about his return to Harrisburg and the disappointment of last season.

“Looking back on it there were a lot of weird things that happened. Fluky things. We got a lot of bad breaks,” Daubach said. “Obviously we were down a lot of games early, but one thing that really stood out to me was how our guys didn’t quit…I can’t tell you how many times we had the winning or tying runs on base and just couldn’t get a big hit. If you get one of those big hits a lot of times it continues on and you can build some momentum.”

The former major league first baseman and designated hitter most notably with the Boston Red Sox was also very appreciative of the backing by the hometown fans, “The other thing that really stood out to me being my first year in Harrisburg was the support we had from the fans. It meant a lot. You didn’t hear any negative stuff. You can tell they’ve been around the team a long time and they’re loyal fans.”

Daubach, who turns 43 in mid-February, hopes to produce different results on the field this season. “I’ve been with the same core group of guys. They’ve had the best record in the league for 2012 and 2013. They didn’t become bad players overnight. I think the Double-A level obviously can be a separator. For some of the guys, they’ll get an opportunity to prove that they’re better than that.”

“We like to develop and win. In the past, our teams have done that. We look forward to getting back to that next year.”

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Senators Caribbean Winter Leagues wrap-up: Hot and Not

Brian Broderick (photo courtesy Cortesía)

Brian Broderick (photo courtesy Cortesía)

HOT

Carlos Rivero (’13) led the Venezuelan Winter League with 15 home runs and 44 RBIs while posting an impressive .282/.362/.554 slash line. Unfortunately for the third baseman, it wasn’t enough to pull his Cardenelas de Lara team into the playoffs.

By the results, it appears Luis Atilano (’08-’09, ’11) has put his injury issues behind him. The right-hander led the Puerto Rican League with seven wins (against zero losses) in 19 games as reliever over 26.1 innings.

Brian Broderick (’12-’13) continued his bounce-back season with a 3-1 record and 16 Saves for Charros de Jalisco of the Mexican Pacific League. Broderick allowed only two earned runs over 26.1 innings and not a single home run (after conceding seven in seven starts with Harrisburg in 2013).

Although he played only the first half of the Dominican season, Tyler Moore (’11) slashed .299/.429/.584 with ten extra-base hits and 18 base on balls. Hopefully Moore will use his strong campaign as a springboard to what is proably a make or break spring training with the Nationals.

After being named the Venezuelan Winter League Reliever of the Year last season, Hassan Pena (’10-’11) is looking to repeat the honor this year. The Cuban defector led the league with 19 saves, held opponents to a .193 batting average, and struck out 32 batters in 32.1 innings.

NOT

Eury Perez (’12) batted a paltry .194 for the last-place Leones del Escogido club of the Dominican Winter League. The centerfielder hit .056 with runners in scoring position, didn’t draw a walk in 93 plate appearances, and was caught stealing in his only two attempts.

Sandy Leon‘s offensive apex in 2012 appears to be more and more of an anomoly as the catcher has continued to struggle at the plate each season since. Leon (’12-’13) labored to .211/.290/.320 in 46 games for Aguilas de Zulia.

Kevin Pucetas (’12) lasted only three starts with Gigantes del Cibao in the D.R. as the knuckleballer got knocked around for eight runs on 14 hits in 9.1 innings. The poor outings can’t help his stock as a minor league free agent.

One of Pucetas’ teammates with Gigantes, Zach Kroenke (’14), didn’t fare much better as the southpaw went 2-2 with a 5.63 ERA in five games. Opponents (predominantly right-handed batters) hit .375 against the Nebraska native over 16 innings.

Outfielder Edgardo Baez (’08-’10) has scuffled to a .189 batting average and .573 OPS over 24 games for the Criollos de Caguas in Puerto Rico. Worse yet, as the squad enters the playoffs Baez has hit only .088 in his last ten games.

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Baseball America’s Top 10 Nationals Prospects

Photo courtesy Dan Gleiter / PennLive

Photo courtesy Dan Gleiter / PennLive

Earlier today, Baseball America released the Washington Nationals’ Top 10 Prospects along with detailed scouting reports on each player. Here is the list along with a note on each player taken from the article.

1. Lucas Giolito RHP
The Nationals rave about his maturity, humility, competitiveness and diligent work habits…With a rare combination of stuff, size, feel for pitching and makeup, Giolito has superstar potential.

2. Michael Taylor OF
Taylor can provide value even if he never hits for average, because his other tools are loud. He could become a solid everyday center fielder, and he has all-star potential if his bat takes another step forward.

3. Reynaldo Lopez RHP
He can overpower hitters with his top-of-the-scale fastball, which often sits at 96-99 mph early in games, and still sits comfortably at 93-96 later in games…Lopez has top-of-the-rotation upside if he can continue to refine his secondary stuff and stay healthy

4. Erick Fedde RHP
Fedde has advanced command of his fastball for his age, and he is a groundball machine…Fedde’s recovery from Tommy John surgery is progressing according to schedule, and he probably will make his pro debut some time in 2015.

5. Steven Souza OF **
His plus raw power plays in games because he excels at driving balls into the right-center field gap, and the Nationals would like to see him pull the ball with authority a bit more…He also has slightly above-average speed and is a smart baserunner who likes to steal bags.

6. A.J. Cole RHP
Cole’s fastball was not quite as overpowering early in 2014 as it had been in the past, but he still pitched comfortably at 91-93 mph with decent life and bumped 96…Cole figures to spend the spring in big league camp for the second straight year and open 2015 back in the rotation at Syracuse.

7. Wilmer Difo MI
He has very good first-step quickness that translates to above-average range at either shortstop or second base, and his slightly above-average arm plays at either spot…They could push him in 2015, now that he’s on the 40-man roster, with a likely assignment at high Class A Potomac and a chance to play his way to Double-A Harrisburg.

8. Drew Ward CI
Ward’s calling card is his lefthanded bat. He has good feel for his barrel and can spray hard line drives from the left-center field gap to the right-field line….Ward has a chance to hit enough to become an everyday first baseman down the road, assuming he outgrows the hot corner as most evaluators expect.

9. Brian Goodwin OF
He followed a lackluster 2013 with a horrific 2014 campaign at Triple-A Syracuse that ended on July 1 when he tore the labrum in his left shoulder sliding into second base…The Nationals have been trying for years to get him to stay in his legs and let his hands work for him, but he can’t break the habit of pulling his lead shoulder and lunging.

10. Nick Pivetta RHP
Pivetta has a physical frame and a long, loose arm action that produces easy velocity. His fastball sits at 92-94 mph and bumps 96. It is very effective when he repeats his delivery and pitches down in the zone with good angle…Pivetta’s mechanics and command remain works in progress, but he has upside as a potential mid-rotation starter if he can continue to progress.

**  After the trade that sent Souza to Tampa, BA slots the returning players Trea Turner and Joe Ross at #2 and #6 respectively. This pushes AJ Cole (and everyone after him on the list) down one spot.

The feature also disclosed their Best Tools of the organization

Best Hitter for Average: Steven Souza
Best Power Hitter: Steven Souza
Best Strike-Zone Discipline: Tony Renda
Fastest Baserunner: Rafael Bautista
Best Athlete: Michael Taylor
Best Fastball: Lucas Giolito
Best Curveball: Lucas Giolito
Best Slider: Erick Fedde
Best Changeup: Erik Davis
Best Control: Taylor Hill
Best Defensive Catcher: Pedro Severino
Best Defensive Infielder: Wilmer Difo
Best Infield Arm: Jason Martinson
Best Defensive Outfielder: Michael Taylor
Best Outfield Arm: Victor Robles

Photo courtesy Elizabeth Frantz / PennLive

Photo courtesy Elizabeth Frantz / PennLive

Then at 3:00 BA writer Aaron Fitt went in an online chat to discuss the list and those players that missed the cut. Here are some snippets on other noteworthy former and current Senators along with players slated for City Island in 2015.

Austin Voth
“Voth landed just outside the Top 10 for me. I don’t think there’s a ton of upside there, but I think he’s a polished three-pitch guy with a very good chance to be a back-end starter. Fairly low-risk, modest-upside prospect, but there is certainly value in that. I think he’s a starter all the way — he doesn’t have a knockout pitch to blow hitters away out of the bullpen, and he tends to get stronger as he works into the middle innings anyway. Very well suited to start.”

Drew Vettleson
“Vettleson has enough tools to make him a prospect, but he needs to improve his performance to boost his standing. I turned him in near the back of the Top 30. There are some people in the Nats organization who really think he’s got a chance to hit, and provide some power, but right now the production doesn’t match the raw ability (certainly the broken hand was a significant setback for him this year, so it’s hard to know what to make of his season). His best tool is his arm, which earns some 70 grades.”

John Simms
“Simms did make my Top 30, but closer to the back end of it. I like him, but I think he’s got a modest ceiling — he’s a little like Voth but with less stuff. It’s a fringy to average fastball around 88-92, but it plays up a bit because he commands it well (that is his best asset), and it has some sink and deception. At his best, his curveball flashes above-average, and his changeup has a chance to be fringe-average. You’re probably looking at an up-and-down No. 5 starter type or maybe a middle reliever.”

Michael Taylor
“Certainly some similarities there (between him and Astros prospect George Springer), although I see Springer as more of a power-hitting right fielder who also brings speed, whereas Taylor is a true center fielder who also brings some power, but less power than Springer. Both guys are going to strike out a lot, but both bring pretty interesting power/speed combinations. I would rather have Springer though, I think. As for when Taylor gets unblocked in D.C., your guess is as good as mine. Right now, there is no clear path to playing time. But he definitely could use another full year in the minors to refine his game anyway. Unlike Souza, I don’t think Taylor is quite big league-ready. Souza is absolutely ready now, and it would have been pointless for him to spend another year at Triple-A.”

Sammy Solis and Matt Purke
“Certainly they have been disappointments, and at this point I think Purke is a real long shot — he just is not the same guy he used to be. He’s no longer in the Top 30 for me. Solis is still in the Top 30, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him still provide some big league value. But the guy just can’t ever stay healthy. He needs to prove it.”

Matt Skole
“Skole slipped down into the 20s for me. The problem is he’s really a first baseman only, so he’s just got to hit a lot, and his swing has so many moving parts that I think people are starting to become a little more skeptical that his bat is going to play in the big leagues. I should add that I’m also lower on Goodwin than BA in general is, but his athleticism and all-around tool package still gives him a lot more value than Skole.”

Tony Renda
“I’m a big Tony Renda fan — top-of-the-charts makeup, just a baseball rat who will always get the most out of his tools. And he can really hit. But he does not have (Giants’ infielder Joe) Panik’s raw tools or size. And he doesn’t defend as well — he has worked hard on his defense, but he’s really a bat-first player. Panik has impact ability both ways.”

Pedro Severino
“I like Severino, and consider him a borderline top 10 prospect. His defensive skills behind the plate are elite, and his arm is a rifle. He did make progress offensively in the second half, although his bat remains the real question mark with him. I’ll still be very surprised if he doesn’t at least carve out a career as a big league backup because of his defense, and if his bat comes, he has everyday starter potential.”

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Catching up on transactions UPDATE…

Photo courtesy Ann Foster / The Patriot-News

Photo courtesy Ann Foster / The Patriot-News

An updated look at the transactions for former Senators (in reverse chronological order):

Dec 15: Paul Demny (’12-’14) – re-signed with Washington Nationals
Dec 15: Luke Montz (’07-’09) – signed with Boston Red Sox
Dec 11: Ross Detwiler (’09-’10) – traded to Texas Rangers
Dec 9: Jhonatan Solano (’09-’10, ’12) – signed with Miami Marlins
Dec 8: Steve Lombardozzi (’10-’11) – outrighted off Baltimore’s 40-man roster and assigned to Triple-A Norfolk
Dec 8: Pat McCoy (’11-’13) – outrighted off Baltimore’s 40-man roster and assigned to Triple-A Norfolk
Dec 6: Tony Blanco (’06-’07) – signed with Orix Buffaloes (NPB)
Dec 5: Justin Maxwell (’08) – signed with San Francisco Giants
Dec 5: Brian Broderick (’12-’13) – signed with Anaheim Angels
Dec 5: Robbie Ray (’13) – traded to Arizona Diamondbacks
Dec 2: Tony Blanco (’06-’07) – released by Yokohama DeNA BayStars (NPB)
Dec 2: Carlos Rivero (’13) – non-tendered and released by Seattle Mariners

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