Oscar Taveras (St. Louis Cardinals outfielder)
Weight: 180 lbs
DOB: 6/19/1992 (He’s 19, so you don’t have to do the math in your head)
From: La Republica Dominicana
Cardinals fans are undoubtedly searching for some solace after losing Albert Pujols via free agency. Sure, the Cards just won the World Series and every fan pretends there’s some sort of unspoken grace period shortly thereafter, but this is a façade. Fans want to win every year and any justification of their team’s failure due to recent success is an exercise in self deception. After all, denial is the first stage in the Kübler-Ross model.
Cardinals fans are hurting right now. I wish I could be optimistic about their short-term prospects (pun intended) but between losing Pujols, Adam Wainwright’s inevitable rust, a host of aging vets, the “win now” moves the Reds have made and a catalog of other issues, the Redbirds might have a rough year. Other than Shelby Miller, true impact players are a long way off and almost all of them are arms (I’m not a Zack Cox fan). One bat to get excited about is that of teenager Oscar Taveras.
That’s OH-skar, not AH-sker, which means his name grades out as at least a 60.
Taveras spent 2011 at low-A Quad Cities of the Midwest league, his first season above rookie ball. He was a force of nature, batting .386 with a .444 OBP and a .564 SLG. While statistics from 19-year-olds at such a low level are often misleading or of little importance (at that age you’re still primarily looking at tools and projectability), a line like that is overwhelmingly impressive.
Taveras flirted with a .400 batting average in 2011 thanks to a drool-inducing swing I spent a week of Arizona Fall League ball gawking at. The plate coverage is excellent as is the bat speed. One concern with Taveras’ swing is that it has a ton of effort. He goes full bore on every cut, and high-effort swings like this raise concerns about excessive swing-and-miss potential. It seems to work for Oscar as his impressive hand-eye coordination overcame that malady. He only struck out 52 times in 347 plate appearances this past year (re-insert caveat about teenagers and statistics here). Taveras’ secondary skills obviously need refining. He’s advanced for his age but not advanced when you consider the grand scheme of things. There are signs of a two-strike approach (he shortens his stride), but his general plate discipline needs work. Several times in the AFL, I saw him lunging at unhittable pitches off the plate away. Part of Taveras’ proclivity to chase might stem from his excellent plate coverage. He might be over confident in his reach.
You’re going to want to watch and see how the power develops. At a wiry 6’-2” and 180 lbs, Taveras has some room to grow. He had better do it. Right now, there’s not a lot of raw power in the swing or the body. I have it graded out as a 40 right now. As he develops, Oscar is going to have to do at least one of two things: He can either squeeze more power out of his swing as he gets a better feel for getting backspin and loft on the ball or he can get more power out of the body by getting bigger and stronger. If he does both, he could run into 25-30 home runs annually. The chances are Lloyd Christmas/Mary Swanson slim but are non-zero.
Oscar has spent time in all three outfield positions. His above-average arm is good enough to play anywhere in the outfield. The question moving forward is whether or not he can stick in center field. With slightly-above-average speed, Taveras’ routes in center would have to be quite crisp for him to profile there. Right now, they are not. While this is something that could come with time, you have to consider the quandary Cardinals player-development people face here. Do you tell Taveras to hit the weight room, bulk up and hope it improves his power, knowing that his fate lies in an outfield corner? Or, do you try to keep him as agile as possible and potentially sacrifice some offense in order to keep him at a more valuable position?
Taveras has the tools to make some all-star rosters and maybe do some batting-title things one day. Do players like this often realize their full potential and maximize their output? No. That’s part of why this is so fun. I just spent 750 words telling you about a guy that might amount to nothing. Look for Oscar in a Florida State League ballpark near you in 2012.