Results tagged ‘ Tony Tarasco ’
The Washington Nationals are grateful to work with partners that are seeking new ways to make a positive impact on youth in our communities. Our friends at DC Public Schools (DCPS) are dedicated to furthering the education of area students – both in and out of the classroom.
Last May, Major League Baseball and the Washington Nationals hosted two private screenings of the movie “42” for 400 D.C. Public School students. Recognizing the social value of educating future generations about Jackie Robinson’s impact beyond the baseball diamond, DCPS jumped at the unique opportunity.
The high school students were able to view the movie free of charge and share their experiences online via Iam42.com. In addition, a panel discussion with Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager, Mike Rizzo, centerfielder Denard Span and First Base Coach Tony Tarasco followed each screening, where students asked questions about the challenges of being a professional athlete, the impact of Jackie Robinson, and battling racial prejudice, both on and off the field.
We are thanking DCPS as part of our Week of Thanks. For more on #NatsWeekOfThanks, click here.
Prior to their contest with the Royals on Saturday, members of the Nationals were invited on a special visit to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. NLBM President Bob Kendrick – successor to the late, great, John “Buck” O’Neil – led the guided tour, while Ian Desmond, Scott Hairston, Denard Span and Tony Tarasco learned about the history of the Negro Leagues and the players that were among the best of all time.
Kendrick’s charming, spirited storytelling painted a beautiful portrait for a touring group and attracted as many as 40 other guests to join along, as he described everything from the speed of James “Cool Papa” Bell to the harsh travel conditions players had to deal with during an era of oppressive segregation.
A poignant, personal moment marked the highlight of the trip, when Hairston saw a showcased photograph of his grandfather, Sam, a star on the Indianapolis Clowns in the late 1940s. With his wife and two young sons in tow, Hairston was able to share a special moment with his family following the guided portion of the tour.
“It’s a very proud feeling – and also very emotional for me, because this is the first time I’ve been here,” Hairston said. “It’s really nice, especially for my kids and wife to see. Not only is it the history of our family, but it’s American history.”
Span, who visited Kansas City many times as a member of the Minnesota Twins, also paid his first visit to the museum. He said he learned a lot on the tour, and was thankful for the opportunity to be there.
“It definitely surpassed what I could have imagined,” Span said of the visit. “I enjoyed the stories about Josh Gibson and all the home runs, and how he was called the ‘Black Babe Ruth’ and Babe Ruth was called the ‘White Josh Gibson.’ The record books would have been written differently if those guys had been able to play in the big leagues, but I still feel like the Negro Leagues played a big part in society.”
Span was struck by the contrast between the five-star accommodations that players enjoy in today’s game and the hardships Negro League players faced to even find hotels that would accept them as paying guests.
“Those guys rode on broken-down buses and probably stayed in one-star hotels, if that, but they still found joy in playing the game that they loved,” Span said. “That just signifies that whole league and the character of those players.”
At the conclusion of the visit, the Nationals presented Kendrick and the Museum with a signed No. 32 Nationals jersey, the number worn by Hall of Fame first baseman Buck Leonard when he played for the Homestead Grays. Tonight, the Nationals will take the field wearing throwback Grays jerseys, facing the Kansas City Monarchs in commemoration of the 1942 Negro World Series.
The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is located near the intersection of historic 18th and Vine, just east of downtown Kansas City.
When the Nationals entered camp in Viera this spring, there were few positions on the field that were yet to be decided. In fact, one could argue that the only truly open position was in center field. Sure, there has been discussion over the last rotation and bullpen spots, as there is with most every team every year, but center field seemed to be the one position for which fans and media-types alike couldn’t arrive at a definitive answer. Needless to say, though, it will not remain a question mark in the long term. In fact, with the recent assignment of Bryce Harper to Triple-A Syracuse with the specific task of playing in the middle of the outfield, the center field position might now be the deepest in the Nationals farm system. And whether Harper sticks in center or eventually shifts back to a corner outfield spot may depend less on him and more on another player many are talking about in the Nationals chain: Michael Taylor.
That may seem like an overstatement for a young man who has never played above Low-A and who won’t turn 21 until next Monday. But he has impressed enough both inside the organization and out to be placed fourth in Washington’s system in MLB.com’s most recent prospect rankings.
While Taylor’s career slash line through his first two seasons is just .240/.301/.400, that hides the progress he made in the second half of last year at Low-A Hagerstown, where he batted .291/.351/.498 after the break. At 6’2” and just 190 pounds, he is still quite slender, but has a projectable frame that coaches believe will fill out over the next few years, bringing more power along with it. If Taylor’s offense plays out according to plan, he could possess the full regiment of tools at one of the premiere defensive positions in the game.
Taylor was drafted as a shortstop, but the Nationals saw an athlete with great instincts and a solid arm that they believed could handle the premiere outfield defensive slot. Ironically, it was the defensive move that may have helped unlock Taylor’s offensive potential and allowed him to become the complete player the Nationals envisioned when they drafted him in the sixth round out of Ft. Lauderdale’s Westminster Academy in 2009.
“The move to the outfield freed him up a great deal offensively,” explains Doug Harris, the Nationals director of player development. “He’s a gifted defender, in part because of his athleticism, but he’s very instinctive as well. Physically, the sky is the limit for him.”
It is hard to imagine, though, that anyone saw that he would take to it as well as he has. Tony Tarasco, Washington’s Minor League hitting coordinator, saw him come to life in the instructional league last fall.
“I watched him go gap-to-gap his first day out there,” recalls Tarasco. “Of course his playing at shortstop helped him when he went to the outfield, because he could get rid of the ball quicker than a lot of other players. And he’s got a cannon arm, but he’s precise. He doesn’t miss the relay man often.”
Tarasco, who was has been very impressed with what he’s seen out of Taylor in his short time in the system, thinks that the change may have even occurred slightly earlier than when Harris saw it come about. He cites a change in attitude as a key factor in the young player’s development.
“He spent some time with Bob Boone in the cage,” recounts Tarasco. “Mike has always been a shy, quiet kid. He was so respectful that it made him almost timid. I think he left Boony with a little bit of aggression.”
Taylor himself recognizes that whatever his adjustments were, they required some work both with his physical and psychological approach. He is quiet, as Tarasco describes, and almost impossibly polite, and describes his progress earnestly.
“I think the work that I did on the physical side helped me relax more and I was able to be at ease in the box,” he explains of the work he did to improve his swing.
However, he goes on to describe the mental side of the adjustment as well, and in doing so, reveals that he is well beyond his years in terms of mental make-up. One of the words that you will hear the most around a professional baseball diamond is “consistency.” Those who can achieve it, who can ride out the slumps by simplifying the game to its individual pieces, are the ones that survive and move up.
“I really enjoy just having a routine,” explains Taylor, showing a keen understanding of that consistency. “That just keeps me focused on right here, on the field.”
According to Tarasco, for Taylor that means keeping a detailed black book of every at-bat, notes on every pitcher faced, for the entire season. Last year, that meant nearly 500 plate appearances, each tracked meticulously.
“I’ve seen guys start it,” says Tarasco of the exhaustive process. “But they get to July, then they don’t finish it. He was still doing it at the end of the year.”
It is that drive and approach, coupled with what Tarasco describes as a through-the-roof IQ, that he believes will help Taylor continue to progress in the years to come. For his part, Taylor is asking plenty of questions, trying to soak up as much as possible. He also appears to be listening, and not over-thinking when it comes to the larger picture.
“As long as I get my work in and stay focused on what I’m doing, everything else will kind of run its course and things will happen,” says the young outfielder.
In talking to Tarasco, it is easy to see where Taylor gets his approach to the game.
“Every single day, you wouldn’t know if he was 0-for-5 or 5-for-5, he continues to have that relentless attitude,” says Tarasco. “The willpower to move slowly, to go day-by-day, eventually is going to catapult him and spring him ahead.”
While there won’t be any rush to get Taylor to the big leagues, those in the Washington-area may have the chance to keep an especially close eye on him as he will likely make his 2012 debut at High-A Potomac in April.