It's a bit unusual for us to see a top prospect called up essentially straight from AA to the majors, but that's what the Nationals just about did with center field prospect Michael Taylor over the weekend. Injuries to Steven Souza and Jayson Werth left the team a bit short on Saturday night, and with Souza hitting the disabled list, Taylor got the call despite playing just four games above AA to this point. He just missed out on my updated top 50 fantasy prospects list, but may jump even higher with a strong finish.
Taylor was a 6th round draft pick back in 2009, and signed for a six-figure bonus despite the later round. A shortstop out of high school in Florida, Taylor played all over the infield in 2010, his first professional season, hitting below the Mendoza line between the GCL and the Sally League and trying his hand at shortstop as well as third and second base. Baseball America ranked him as the top third base prospect in the Nationals' system after the year, but he failed to make the team's top 30 overall prospects.
Hoping to capitalize on his above-average speed, the team moved Taylor to the outfield to start the 2011 season, and returned him to full-season Low-A. The performance was better than the previous year, but still showed a lot of raw tools. He hit .253 with 13 home runs and 23 stolen bases that year, but also walked just 32 times and struck out 120 in 126 games. BA moved him up to #14 within the Nationals' organization, and the #4 outfielder in the system. The reports from the time raved about how well he took to the outfield, and specifically how his defense was excellent in center field.
The Nationals moved him up to High-A Potomac in 2012, and appeared in 109 games before a sprained foot cut his season short. He continued to struggle to make contact, hitting .242 with 113 strikeouts in that time, and producing below expectations (3 home runs, 19 stolen bases) despite playing in a relatively friendly home park. The reports on his potential at the time outlined a player that had the tools to be a very productive hitter, but still not there in terms of translating them.
He repeated High-A in 2013, stealing 51 bases, hitting 10 home runs, and providing solid batting average (.263) and on-base percentage (.340) in spite of his issues with strikeouts (131 in 133 games). The potential continued to show, and the Nationals added him to the 40 man roster despite only expected to hit AA to start the 2014 season. Here's what I wrote about Taylor before this season:
Taylor is going to reach the majors based on his defensive profile, as he is expected to be an above-average defender out in center field, using his plus speed to help track down fly balls. While that will help him move up the system, it doesn't necessarily translate to fantasy. There are questions about Taylor's ability to translate his power potential and plus speed into production for fantasy owners, as his hit tool (specifically his contact ability) remains suspect.
The start of the season came, and apparently Taylor had heard enough of people questioning his ability to translate his tools. Between AA and AAA, he's hitting .315/.401/.547 with 22 home runs, 63 RBI, 35 stolen bases, and 76 runs scored. The numbers are amazing so far, but don't necessarily tell his whole story. To date, he's sporting a .421 BABIP, and while the high strikeout total can cause that to be a bit inflated (he has struck out 132 times in 102 games), it's not sustainable and should regress close to his career range of .320-.330. That said, there's definite fantasy value here with playing time.
Taylor has the potential to provide above average stolen base totals (30-40), depending on his ability to make enough contact and get on base enough. He has shown the ability to take a walk, with walk rates between 9 and 11 percent in his last three stops, but that is contingent on his ability to lay off pitches he can't hit. His power totals in the majors will also be highly contingent on that contact ability, as he has shown the potential to provide 20+ home runs a season if it clicks. The reports on his pitch recognition point to some concerns, and specifically that he has problems dealing with offspeed/breaking pitches, which leads in part to the high strikeouts. He has shown improvements in performance this year, but it's unclear right now whether they are the outliers or the real deal.
Right now, it doesn't appear that Taylor will get everyday playing time, and with the Nationals locked into Denard Span for another season, he may not be up until after the 2015 season despite being on the 40-man roster. Time at AAA next year seems likely, unless the team makes a trade of either Taylor or Span. He's worth holding onto in dynasty formats, as even if he hits .240 or below, should have value in many formats with an everyday job. There is also the outside shot that the changes he has made this year are real, which could lead you to a potential fantasy monster, hitting .270-.280 with 25+ home runs and 35+ steals.