For today’s positional preview we move over to center field. We’re expecting for Chris Taylor to be the club’s primary centerfielder opening the 2018 season. Taylor was not the team’s opening day center fielder originally. It’s been so long we’ve almost forgotten but Joc Pederson was the Dodger’s regular center fielder, until injuries sidelined him for extended periods Taylor filled in early in the 2017 season and played so well that the Dodgers eventually pushed Joc into left field. If Taylor can reproduce his fantastic 2017 then he’ll stay there and Joc would be left to battle for left field. Taylor’s impressive breakout season culminated with him winning the Co-NLCS MVP award when the Dodgers defeated the Cubs to capture the National League Pennant.
Before the 2017 season Taylor was nothing more than a light hitting utility player. He was a fifth outfielder at best. The Dodgers acquired him from the Mariners in the Zach Lee swap. Initially he did not impress batting .207 in 62 plate appearances in 2016.
You have to tip your hat with the way Taylor reinvented himself last year. It took a lot of hard work and dedication. The right handed hitter tweaked his batting mechanics, and changed his approach. The numbers were terrific. Taylor slashed .288/.354/.496 with 21 home runs and 72 runs driven in over 568 plate appearances. Taylor’s combination of power and patience was a big recipe for success for the Dodgers at the top of the lineup. Taylor drew 50 walks and posted an 8.8% free pass rate. His isolated power was a .208 clip.
There was a reason the Dodgers left Taylor in the lead-off spot for the majority of the year. He batted .302 in the top spot and hit .310 on the first pitch. When he led off an inning, he batted .291. Fifteen of his 21 home runs were hit from the lead-off spot. He was also quality on the base paths, swiping 17 bags during the 2017 campaign.
The question everyone is asking is whether Taylor can continue his success in 2018. Most of the projections show that Taylor’s production could dip, but will still be above average. Here’s what Steamer thinks Taylor will do in 2018.
Chris Taylor 2018 projections-Steamer-.263/.329/.459 13 HR 58 RBI 8.4% BB/ 22.8% K .146 ISO
Not only did Taylor have a successful season with the bat, but he also was solid as a rock with the glove. He appeared in 96 games as an outfielder, (49 of them in centerfield) and tallied 5 defensive runs saved with a +7 total zone fielding runs above average. Before he was ushered into center field he was also a backup in the infield. Taylor played 22 games at second and 14 games at shortstop filling in for Logan Forsythe and Corey Seager respectively when needed. He was rated well above league average at both positions. The 27-year old also saw 8 games at third base as well.
Taylor had a very productive postseason overall, but most of the heavy lifting was done during the NLCS. He batted .231 (3 for 13) in the NLDS against Arizona. Then he went on to post a .316/.458/.789 slash line in the NLCS with two home runs, five walks and four extra-base hits. That helped him earn the Co-NLCS MVP award alongside Justin Turner in the Dodger’s five-game NLCS victory that sent the club to their first World Series trip since 1988. During the fall classic Taylor hit just .222 (6 for 27) with a home run and four runs scored.
If Taylor falters the Dodgers to have other guys who can play center field. Rookie Alex Verdugo and Joc can both man the position. Verdugo is probably expected to start the season in Oklahoma City unless he impresses in spring. The Dodgers also have Enrique Hernandez who has had considerable amounts of time in center as well. Don’t forget that Andrew Toles can play center too, if he is able to properly heal from his torn ACL that ended his season early last year.
Overall the Dodgers have a lot of quality options in center field. The ideal situation is for Taylor to continue his brilliance in center and atop the lineup. If for any reason he falters or gets hurt the Dodgers have plenty of depth behind him to survive.