'He's special': Taveras leads off in first start

Rangers' switch-hitting prospect tallies first hit in win over A's

August 25th, 2020

The Rangers brought up rookie outfielder Leody Taveras from their alternate camp and immediately put him in the lineup against the Athletics on Monday.

They didn’t try to hide the 21-year-old switch-hitter at the bottom of the lineup for his first Major League start in a 3-2 win. They had him batting leadoff against Athletics left-hander Jesús Luzardo.

Luzardo struck out Taveras leading off the first inning. But Taveras came up with two outs in the second and lined a single to left for his first Major League hit.

“Unbelievable feeling,” Taveras said. “I have been thinking about that and dreaming about that since I was a little kid. What happened tonight was a dream come true.”

This was not his Major League debut. Taveras was used for one inning as a defensive replacement on Opening Day before being returned to the alternate camp.

But while the Rangers brought him back as a starter to improve their outfield defense, they also want to take a hard look at Taveras to see if he can be a legitimate option in center field next season.

“We don't really have a true leadoff hitter,” manager Chris Woodward said. “Leody kind of fits that mold. He sees pitches, he stays in the strike zone and he's a switch-hitter. Even if we were 17-10 as opposed to [11-17], I think I would want to see him at some point. I think that much of him.”

Taveras, hitting from the right side against Luzardo, ended up going 1-for-3 with a walk in his first game. This was the first time the Rangers used a player in the leadoff spot in his first Major League start since Jason Romano in 2002.

“Kind of what I expected at the plate,” Woodward said. “I think left-handed is his better side, but his at-bat quality, he stays in the strike zone, stayed through that 2-0 changeup to get his first hit and had a really good at-bat later on to get a walk. Those are the things he does. He’s special. In center field, it’s elite out there. He’s probably the best we got.”

Taveras also made a nice defensive play in the ninth. Tony Kemp, representing the tying run, was running from first with one out when Marcus Semien singled to center. Taveras charged the ball aggressively and held Kemp at second base.

“I don't think the moment is going to be too big for him,” Woodward said. “I don't think this is a matter of because we're struggling that we're bringing him up. I think it's just the right time to bring him up. He's ready.”

The Rangers are confident in Taveras’ defense. He has been consistently ranked by various outlets as one of the top defensive outfielders in the Minor Leagues for the past few years.

Offensively, he has a four-year average of .260 in the Minor Leagues with a .323 on-base percentage and a .358 slugging percentage. How he progresses offensively could determine his long-term future, but the Rangers are ready to begin the evaluation process now.

“I am just working on a plan,” Taveras said. “My plan is to come in and have a routine, work hard on the offensive side and hope everything works out.”