If you don’t know who Oscar Taveras is at this point, you should ask your internet service provider to explain how you’ve had Wi-Fi go through the boulder that you’ve been living under. Taveras has been a top prospect for three seasons ranking 23rd in 2012, 2nd in 2013, and 3rd in 2014 prior to each season (Baseball Prospectus), gaining all kinds of impressive comps along the way, including Vladimir Guerrero. The left-handed hitting outfielder was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals in November of 2008 at the tender age of 16. Much like Gregory Polanco, who I wrote about on Wednesday, he appears stuck in the minors due to the financial constraints of the Super Two process, although…the Cardinals do have better talent blocking Taveras than what the Pirates have blocking Polanco, as Matt Adams and Allen Craig seem much more capable than Jose Tabata and Travis Snider.
Regardless of why Taveras is in the minors, he won’t be there for long. A recent article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch by Derrick Goold quoted Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak saying that the 21-year-old Taveras could come up June 4 when the Cards begin a seven-game road trip in American League parks (Royals, Blue Jays, and Rays), where they’ll need a DH. Bringing up Taveras would allow the club to rotate Adams and Craig in the DH role, while plugging the youngster into the lineup. The only problem will be – what do they do after that series?
Matt Adams turns 26 in August and posted an .839 OPS in 2013. He’s still slashing at .316/.331/.483 this season, but the “Cardinal Way” isn’t showing up in his five walks in 181 plate appearances, including a 25-game and 98 plate appearance stretch from April 12 to May 9 when he didn’t take a single free pass. He still has plenty of offensive potential, but his defensive limitations (being strictly a first baseman due to his 6’3″, 260 pound frame) could lead to an eventual trade, especially with Allen Craig around.
Speaking of Craig, he, too, could see a change of position if Taveras comes up for good. Craig possessing the five-year, $31 million extension will be the player out of the two current Cardinals to stick. His above-average production over the last two-and-a-half years is great, but his injury issues continue to prevent him from being truly elite. The versatility that Craig has shown in the past would be limited, but plugging him in at first base if and when Taveras comes up for good could play a role in his health over the rest of his contract.
More interesting than moving Craig and/or Adams around would be a move or takeover of center field by Taveras. St. Louis center fielders have combined for a .247/.324/.380 triple slash (.704 OPS), with Peter Bourjos and Jon Jay lacking in overall production as the primary culprits. It is debatable as to whether Taveras is a long-term solution in center, but he could certainly handle the position this season, while boosting the St. Louis offense with his potential production along the way.
If he’s up, he needs to play. Taveras isn’t really a player that you keep on the bench and utilize in a 4th outfielder role. He has a nice list of accomplishments:
- Two-time Futures Game selection
- 2010 Appalachian League Post-Season All-Star
- 2011 Baseball America Low-A All-Star
- 2012 Texas League Mid-Season and Post-Season All-Star
- 2012 Texas League Player of the Year
- 2012 Baseball America Minor League All-Star
- 2012 Topps Double-A All-Star
- 2013 Dominican Winter League Rookie of the Year
All of that…and he’s 21. All of that…and he played in only 47 games in 2013 due to an ankle injury.
Beyond his accomplishments lie his tools, which haven’t even peaked yet. Here is what the scouts say about Taveras:
Jason Parks, Baseball Prospectus: “Elite hit tool potential; natural feel for barreling the baseball; elite hands; elite bat speed; controlled chaos in the swing; batting title future; power will flow from the hit tool; raw power is near elite; game power likely to play above plus; arm is strong; good athlete with instincts for the game; average run; average (or better) glove; special offensive profile.”
Jonathan Mayo, MLB.com: “He is a gifted hitter and has proven that at every level of the Minor Leagues. He utilizes an aggressive approach and consistently barrels up balls, driving them to all fields. He generates impressive bat speed, producing above-average power that plays well in games.Taveras has a strong arm and average speed. He covers ground well in the outfield and the Cardinals have used him in center field in the Minor Leagues. He probably fits best in right field and will get a chance to prove he belongs in St. Louis before long.”
John Sickels, MinorLeagueBall.com: “He’s going to be a monster as long as health issues don’t get in the way. Left-handed-hitting Vlad Guerrero is the ceiling here.”
Taveras has been spectacular throughout his career:
The .893 OPS is just scratching the surface when you consider that nearly 30 percent of his plate appearances came when most American players were high school juniors or high school seniors.
Oscar Taveras has had some high expectations for quite some time, but he has lived up to them at each stop. The comparisons seem unreasonable, but he deserves the opportunity to prove them wrong at the major-league level. The time is coming in St. Louis where Taveras is on the field every day. For a team that has appeared in four World Series in the last ten years, this is just a slap in the face to the rest of the league. Prepare yourselves for greatness, but don’t expect miracles right away. Taveras will be a very special player.