Michael Taylor Vaults into Sleeperdom by Mike Podhorzer March 10, 2015 When injury strikes, opportunity arises. This time, Michael Taylor is the beneficiary. Initially expected to step in for Jayson Werth as he recovers from right shoulder surgery, Taylor is suddenly set to enjoy more guaranteed playing time in the wake of Denard Span’s expected absence. Yesterday, Span underwent core muscle surgery, which figures to sideline him for at least four to six weeks. That means that Taylor will now fill in at center field, possibly for the entire first month of the season. Sticking with the playing time potential theme, Taylor isn’t going to necessarily experience a sharp decline in plate appearances once Span does return. Werth is going to be 36 years old this season and is recovering from that aforementioned shoulder surgery, so he’s no sure thing to remain healthy all year. Then of course, there’s Bryce Harper, who has battled various ailments since his 2012 rookie year, and has seen his plate appearance totals dwindle each season. So there’s a real chance that Taylor can accumulate 400-450 at-bats this season. Now that we’ve discussed his playing time upside, it’s time for the equally important performance analysis. But before diving in, I would like to share with you a word of caution. Taylor turns 24 later this month, so he’s actually older than Harper. And yet, he’s recorded all of 52 plate appearances at the Triple-A level. It’s a concern, because it’s seemingly much more difficult for a hitter to make a successful jump to the Majors with little to no Triple-A experience than it is for a pitcher. Taylor’s biggest bugaboo at the plate is his strikeout rate. He has struck out at least 20% of the time at every minor league stop, including a massive 29.5% of the time at Double-A in 2014. That’s a big red flag. You assume that translating that mark to the Majors would yield something in the 30% range, which ZiPS actually projects. Even if he manages to post an inflated BABIP, it’s going to be mighty difficult for him to avoid sapping your team’s batting average. So that’s the negative, and it’s a big one. But aside from that gigantic wart, the rest of his game is quite exciting. He offers that intriguing blend of power and speed that fantasy owners salivate over. He hasn’t displayed massive power in the minors given his .172 career ISO there, but it’s certainly high enough to expect a positive contribution in home runs. His career minor league HR/FB rate sat at 10%, but he enjoyed a power spike in 2014, fueled by a 21.5% HR/FB rate. His respectable power isn’t his most promising fantasy-related skill though. That would be his speed. He swiped 37 bases (to just 9 caughts, for an 80% success rate) in 2014, which followed 51 steals in 2013. His triples totals and Spd scores suggest that he’s not exactly a blazer on the bases, but merely well above average, so it might be wise to expect his stolen base attempts to decline in the majors. Both Steamer and ZiPS project greater than 10 homers and 20 steals extrapolated over a full season. My Pod Projections are on board with that as well, though think he has a bit more power upside than the two systems are projecting. It’s true that his projected batting average ain’t pretty, but if he could fill up the rest of the stat sheet, he should be able to carve out some mixed league value while he’s starting, and maintain NL-Only value even as a reserve.