ST. LOUIS -- Despite a season interrupted and a climb stalled by an ankle injury, Oscar Taveras enters 2014 as highly touted as he was a season ago.
For the second straight year, Taveras lands No. 3 on MLB.com's list of top 100 prospects released Thursday. The Cardinals also are represented on the list by second baseman Kolten Wong (No. 58) and outfielder Stephen Piscotty (No. 98). Wong is one of four second basemen to dent the top 100 rankings, while Piscotty and Taveras are among the 19 outfielders on the list.
The Red Sox lead all teams with nine prospects in the rankings.
The annual ranking of baseball's biggest and brightest young talents is assembled by MLBPipeline.com Draft and prospect experts Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis, who compile input from industry sources, including scouts and scouting directors. It is based on analysis of players' skill sets, upsides, proximity to the Majors and potential immediate impact to their teams. The list, which is one of several prospect rankings on MLBPipeline.com's Prospect Watch, only includes players with rookie status in 2014.
The Cardinals were better represented in the 2013 rankings, leading the Majors with six of the top 100 prospects. However, four of those players -- Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal and Michael Wacha -- have since exhausted their eligibility by moving onto St. Louis and contributing to the big league club.
The organization hopes that Taveras, Wong and Piscotty follow that trajectory in 2014.
Wong already has made his Major League debut and projects to be the Cardinals' starting second baseman this season. The Cardinals intend to give the 23-year-old the opportunity to establish himself as an everyday player, confident that Wong's Minor League track record is an indication of his readiness for the jump.
Though Wong hit .153 in his 59 at-bats with the Cardinals in 2013, he had a .301/.365/.446 slash line over three Minor League seasons.
"All of us who have gotten to see Kolten play at the Minor League levels the last couple years believe in him," general manager John Mozeliak said of Wong, who was ranked 79th in this list a year ago. "We believe he's capable of being an everyday player at the big league level. When I look at those six weeks as a sample size of his production, I wouldn't read too much into it."
Wong may have beaten Taveras to the big leagues, but Taveras remains the most exciting position-player prospect in the organization since Albert Pujols. He almost certainly would have made his debut in St. Louis last season had an ankle injury and subsequent surgery not ended Taveras' season prematurely.
He will get a chance to crack the Opening Day roster, though it's more likely Taveras will begin the season in Triple-A and be bumped up a bit later. Taveras, 21, has twice been named the organization's Minor League Player of the Year and has a .320/.377/.518 Minor League slash line. He hits for power, can showcase speed and is defensively versatile.
"With the training I got last year, I feel really good," Taveras said through an interpreter last weekend. "I've been working really hard with my ankle. ... Physically, I feel prepared. I feel good. Last year was off because of the ankle. I felt bad because I wasn't on the team. But I was watching the team, watching my friends play hard. That got my spirits up to work hard this year. If God has it, I will be on the team this year."
Taveras gets most of the attention, but Piscotty is another outfielder making big impressions within the Cardinals' farm system. He cracks the top 100 rankings for the first time, which is a credit to his breakout 2013 season.
Taken No. 36 overall in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, Piscotty has made a quick climb. He finished in Double-A last year and will compete for a spot in the Triple-A outfield while participating in Major League camp for the first time this spring.
Piscotty closed 2013 with a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League after he hit .295/.355/.464 during the regular season. He also made the transition defensively from third base to right field.
Though Piscotty still has more to accomplish in the Minors than Wong or Taveras, he, too, is eyeing a 2014 arrival in St. Louis.
"I'm just trying to play baseball," Piscotty said over the weekend. "I don't like getting caught up in thinking about that. It's not in my control. I'm just out there trying to play ball and do the best that I can do. I'm having a great time. I'm not in a huge rush to get anywhere. I'm just trying to be the best I can be, and hopefully, I can make it up there one of these days."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB.