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.
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.