If Michael A. Taylor receives a “told you so” text message from one of his former coaches in the Washington Nationals organization, he’ll likely welcome it with a warm grin and a chuckle. Taylor’s stance on emojis isn’t entirely clear.
Taylor put a bow on what Kansas City Royals manager Mike Matheny described as “one of the best-played defensive center fields I think I’ve ever seen” with his first Gold Glove award on Sunday night.
Taylor’s consistently dazzling exploits give him a strong case as the American League’s Platinum Glove winner as the top defender in the league at any position.
The Gold Glove also signified Taylor having followed through on his pledge after having originally been drafted as a shortstop in 2009.
“It hurt at the time when I was moving from the infield to the outfield,” Taylor said. “I know there’s guys in the Nationals organization that are kind of laughing because I gave them a hard time about moving. But they knew it was the right move for me, and after that move I really just poured myself into the outfield and said I was going to be the best outfielder that I could be.
“To win this award, I feel like I did make the right move. I love the outfield now, so I’m happy that I made that change.”
A dynamic athlete from Florida who dominated high school competition with his raw ability, Taylor had to take a step back when he got to professional baseball and struggled at the high-profile position he’d always played.
“I guess it was an ego thing,” Taylor said of his initial reluctance to make the move. “You grow up playing one position and you think that’s where you belong.”
All of a sudden, a 19-year-old Taylor found himself facing doubt in his ability and questioning himself in an athletic setting perhaps for the first time. From the doubt and uncertainty simmered on back fields under the Florida sun during instructional ball with the Nationals rose his unbridled quest for outfield Gold.
He came close in 2017 as a finalist for the center field honor ultimately bestowed upon Ender Inciarte.
This season, the combination of Taylor’s defensive prowess and the largest outfield in the AL seemed like a perfect match. Taylor didn’t disappoint, showing off speed, an ability to read the ball in flight and game situations and that awe-inspiring throwing arm that made him a viable shortstop candidate.
“Honestly, some of my favorite times in the outfield is when there’s a ball hit into the left-center field gap and me and Michael would go get it,” Royals left fielder and fellow Gold Glove winner Andrew Benintendi said. “He’d pick it up and I’d get to watch his throw from the outfield. Whether it means a dart to third or second base, that thing explodes out of his hand.”
Taylor served notice that his arm would provide as dangerous a weapon as his legs in the season opener, when he threw out a pair of base runners at the plate within his first three innings at the Royals center fielder.
Nearly every credible metric, Taylor played elite level center field and ranked among the top defensive players regardless of position in the majors this season.
The Fielding Bible and the SABR Defensive Index each rated him the best defensive center fielder in the majors. Tampa Bay’s Manuel Margot was the lone outfielder with more outs above average than Taylor, but Margot logged three times the number of attempts in right field as he did in center field.
Taylor led all defenders in the majors in ultimate zone rating (UZR), a metric that aims to measure the combined impact of a defensive player’s arm, range and ability to avoid errors. Taylor registered a UZR of 13.3 this season. The next highest in the majors belonged to Oakland Athletics third baseman Matt Chapman with a rating of 8.7.
Taylor led all MLB center fielders with 19 defensive runs saved, 15 outs above average and 11 outfield assists. He also recorded the second-highest defensive runs saved total in the majors, and the third-best fielding percentage among AL center fielders (.992).
Taylor credited first base/outfield coach Rusty Kuntz for helping shorten his “learning curve” in his first year with the Royals and with Kauffman Stadium as his home ballpark. He also credited his infielders and catcher Salvador Perez, saying that every time he made a throw he was also throwing to “Gold Glovers.”
“There’s so many great defenders out there,” Taylor said. “To be recognized as one of the best this year is an honor and just a great feeling. I worked really hard on my defense, and it paid off a little bit this year.”