Beltran a model of consistency on and off the field
Veteran outfielder facing free agency, challenge of No. 2 overall prospect Taveras
ST. LOUIS -- There are few players in the game with the consistent success of St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Carlos Beltran. In fact, it's difficult to comprehend where the team would be without him in the lineup.
In my opinion, Beltran is a Hall of Fame player in waiting. A career .283 hitter over 16 years that cover 2,064 games and 8,949 plate appearances, he has been a model of outstanding offensive consistency.
The switch-hitting Beltran, now 36, has played for five teams.
Now, 15 years after he first saw Major League pitching, Beltran finished the regular season hitting .296 for the National League champion Cardinals.
Beltran thrives on the challenges presented in October. In the 10 postseason series in which he has played, he has a composite batting average of .335. Beltran has hit 16 home runs and driven in 39 runs in 215 plate appearances.
I have watched countless at-bats by Beltran. There are a couple of basic trends to his hitting.
For a power hitter, Beltran makes extremely good contact. This past season, he struck out only 90 times in 600 plate appearances.
Overall, Beltran had a better batting average (.301) against right-handed starters than lefties (.282). Both are pretty darn good.
As a right-handed hitter, Beltran is better hitting the curveball than the slider. He seems to thrive on hitting the hanging curve to all parts of the field, but the sharp break on sliders and cutters bother him more.
Beltran is most successful hitting fastballs and changeups hitting left-handed. In fact, he thrives on them. It's only natural, as he sees more right-handed pitching.
Using a full extension and a fairly significant uppercut at the completion of his swing, Beltran is successful hitting in most zones of the plate. The exceptions are the lower inside and outside portions down around his knees. Interestingly, he can handle low pitches down the middle very well.
Beltran's 24 homers this past season proved he is still very capable of hitting home runs. But he is an extremely dangerous line-drive gap hitter with the ability to use the entire field from both sides of the plate. Beltran knows how to take a pitch in the direction it is thrown.
Troubling knees have sapped Beltran of much of the speed he once used to steal bases. For example, in his age-27 season, he stole 42 bases while being caught stealing only three times. Those days are gone. This past season, Beltran stole only two bases.
Beltran is more than an outstanding baseball player. He was presented the prestigious 2013 Roberto Clemente Award, given to the player that best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship and community involvement. The Carlos Beltran Academy in Puerto Rico offers young athletes educational and developmental opportunities.
While Beltran is still in the midst of trying to bring a World Series championship to the Cardinals, he will have a serious decision to make in the near future. He will soon become a free agent. Given his abilities, Beltran will certainly have his choice of teams for which to play.
The Cards would likely be a logical place for him to continue his career. However, they too, have a difficult decision to make.
Perhaps the next Beltran is waiting in the wings within the Cardinals' Minor League organization. Left-handed-hitting Oscar Taveras, only 21 and the No. 2 MLB.com prospect, awaits his opportunity to play on the Major League stage.
Taveras, injured this past season and limited to 186 plate appearances in 46 games, is a powerful five-tool player. If healthy, he could assume a role in the Cards' outfield.
However, that role doesn't necessarily have to be replacing Beltran.
Certain players have a knack for producing when the lights are the brightest. In this postseason, as in the past, Beltran is having his usual impact.