Bill Ladson

Nats prospect homers in Taylor-made debut

Making start in right field, 23-year-old goes 2-for-4 in victory over Mets

Nats prospect homers in Taylor-made debut

NEW YORK -- Nationals outfielder Michael Taylor made his Major League debut Tuesday night, going 2-for-4 with his first Major League home run in a 7-1 victory over the Mets.

Taylor received the start in right field against New York because Jayson Werth was sidelined by a right shoulder injury.

Manager Matt Williams said he noticed that Taylor is a different hitter than the one he saw during Spring Training. During batting practice in Atlanta, for example, Taylor displayed power, his bat speed increased and he looked a lot stronger, according to Williams.

"It looks like he has turned that corner as far as his power stroke goes and we have seen the stats, of course," Williams said before the game. "We want to get him in there as much as possible."

Taylor, 23, is considered by to be the third-best prospect in the Nationals' farm system. He is having the best season of his professional career, hitting a combined .315 with 22 home runs and 63 RBIs for Double A-Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse.

"It's the upside that we saw when we moved him to center field," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "He has put in the work. The [Brian] Daubachs of the world, those guys who have spent a lot of time with him, it's a big for them. I called [Harrisburg manager] Daubach tonight and congratulated him on a job well done."

Prior to this year, Taylor had a tough time hitting for average and was striking out a lot. But his approach to the plate changed this year.

"He controls the strike zone," Rizzo said. "He doesn't fish for balls like he did in the Minor Leagues. He commands the strike zone a lot better. He knows himself as a hitter. He is starting to use the whole field. That's probably the biggest distinction between this breakout season and some of the seasons in the past."

As for Tuesday, the highlight of Taylor's day came in his third at-bat in the sixth inning. With Carlos Torres on the mound, hit a two-run shot over the right-field wall to give Washington a 7-0 lead.

"It's fantastic. He has worked really hard. He has taken all the BP and worked his way to get here," Williams said. "It's gratifying for everybody. The bench was excited on the first base hit and the homer, even more excited. Good for the kid and certainly a memory he'll remember forever."

Taylor was humble and shy when he was approached by the media after the game. Behind him were the two balls in his locker -- one for his first base hit, which was a single to center field in the second inning, and the home run ball.

Taylor admitted that he was nervous before the game. After he collected the first base hit, Taylor said he felt numb. But he was able to slow things down and enjoy the rest of the game.

"I was trying to breathe and I was trying to relax," Taylor said. "Before the game, a lot of guys were talking about how it was the same game. Go out there and do the same thing and just enjoy the moment."

Did it feel like the same game for Taylor?

"A little bit. It's definitely a bigger stadium. It's pretty much the same," Taylor said.

Lula Taylor, Michael's mother, was arguably the happiest person in the world. She was watching the game with friends and family in Florida. Can you imagine the reaction when Michael hit the home run? She was watching the game on MLB Network and was overjoyed when her son went around the bases.

"We're crying, we are jumping up and down, we are screaming," Lula said. "The phone was ringing off the hook. I don't think anybody is going to sleep tonight. All I could do is say, praise God. To do it his first game out, that is awesome."

In 2011, two years after Taylor was drafted, Rizzo said the outfielder had a bright future in the baseball. At that time, Taylor was an above-average outfielder but was still learning the strike zone.

"When you looked at him with the scout's eye, you are projecting what he is going to be when he matures into the body and into the player that he is going to be," Rizzo said. "You could see the long strides. He covers a lot of ground in the outfield. We knew the power was going to come. With players with his body type, it takes a little longer for the power to develop. You are seeing remnants of it this year in the Minor Leagues."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.