Taylor ready to take over center field for Nationals

With Span hurt, 23-year-old excited for opportunity in outfield

Taylor ready to take over center field for Nationals

VIERA, Fla. -- It was after batting practice Monday that Nationals outfielder Michael Taylor found out that center fielder Denard Span would miss most of Spring Training after having surgery to repair a right core muscle. Span even said it's unlikely that he will be ready for Opening Day.

With Span out, manager Matt Williams announced that Taylor will get most of the playing time during the spring. Taylor is 3-for-5 this season and will start against the Marlins on Tuesday.

Taylor, 23, said he is ready to prove that he can be a quality everyday player.

"I don't want to see anyone go down. Denard is a great guy and he has been awesome to me. I'll be praying for his recovery," said Taylor, who is ranked by MLBPipeline.com as the club's No. 3 prospect. "As far as the baseball goes, I came in ready. I will probably go about my business and be ready for the season."

Taylor was taken in the sixth round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft as a shortstop. They immediately put him in the outfield, thinking he was better suited there. After a slow start to his professional career, Taylor blossomed with Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse last year, hitting a combined.304 with 23 home runs and 64 RBIs.

Top Prospects: Taylor, WSH

Who can forget when he received the call up to the big leagues last August? In his first big league game against the Mets, Taylor hit a home run against right-hander Carlos Torres.

This season, Taylor came to camp more relaxed than he did when he made his Major League debut. Even general manager Mike Rizzo has seen a difference.

"[Taylor] has been to the big leagues and I think it has helped him in his preparation," Rizzo said. "He knew how to prepare in the offseason to get ready for this. He thought he had a good chance to make the team in Spring Training this year. That was his goal. That was his motivation. He has really come prepared.

"He is more relaxed. He is a Major Leaguer now. He is a guy that has the skills to be a really good big league player. I think this injury to Denard gives him an opportunity. One man's injury is one man's opportunity. I'm sure Michael is going to take this opportunity and run with it."

The media has focused on Taylor's offense because he knows he has to cut down on his strikeouts. He had 144 strikeouts last year in the Minor Leagues. But Taylor is an outstanding defensive outfielder.

"His defense is the best part of his game," Rizzo said. "He is an above-average center fielder, he has an above-average arm."

Taylor never thought he would be a quality outfielder. He dreamed of playing shortstop in the big leagues.

"I didn't have any plans to move to the outfield, but once I did, I just wanted to make sure I gave my all out there," Taylor said. "From Day 1, I said this is where I'm going. I'm going to do the best I could do."

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