Has the real Leody Taveras stepped up?

May 31st, 2023

This story was excerpted from Kennedi Landry’s Rangers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

DETROIT -- Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said he knew after first meeting that he was a player with a high ceiling.  

The Rangers’ top prospect going into 2017 and '18, Taveras struggled once he got to the Majors. He's always been an elite defensive outfielder -- that much is clear. But the Rangers needed his bat to translate in the big leagues. For three years, that was not the case.

Between 2020-22, he slashed .226/.280/.344 with a .624 OPS (75 OPS+) in 181 games. He made his big league debut during the COVID-shortened season, skipping Triple-A all together thanks to the Minor League shutdown, but never fully hit his stride against big league pitching. 

But has Leody Taveras, former Top 100 prospect, finally arrived?

He’s slashing .310/.369/.434 with a .803 OPS (123 OPS+) in 41 games after he was sidelined with an oblique injury to open the season. His strikeout rate has dropped dramatically year over year, his walk rate has improved marginally and his average exit velocity is higher than it's ever been. 

He is looking every bit of the player he was meant to be.

So what’s changed for Taveras? Admittedly, not much, according to hitting coach Tim Hyers. 

“I think it’s just confidence in his ability and just growing within the league,” he said. “I think last year was big for him and he had a lot of success, but [he] just got a little tired at the end. But we also made a few adjustments with his swing that I think have paid dividends with his lower half and I think that helps him be consistent.”

Hyers explained that Taveras never had a lot of swing-and-miss in his game, but he wasn’t always making the highest quality of contact. By cleaning up his lower half -- making it less “squirrely,” according to Bochy -- he’s able to make good contact when he swings at pitches in the zone. 

His stance from both sides of the plate is a little more crouched, which Taveras noted is more like he did throughout the early levels of the Minor Leagues. He changed to standing straight up because he felt like he was rotating his upper body too much. 

Now, he is able to crouch slightly in his stance, while keeping his shoulders square and getting everything from his legs.

Taveras during the 2022 season

Taveras during the 2023 season

“I think as much as anything. [I’ve liked] the nice little adjustment he's made up there with quieting things down and showing better discipline at the plate,” Bochy said. “I mean, the numbers are the evidence that he's done that. He's not chasing quite as much as he used to and he’s making much more hard contact. I would say that, especially for a guy that missed Spring Training, he's really gotten in a good groove here with controlling the zone and finding the barrel on the ball.”

It’s also a little bit mental for Taveras. 

“I’ve learned what type of player I am and what I have to try to do,” Taveras said. “I'm the type of player who cannot go to the plate and try to do too much. I just have to try to put the barrel on the ball and let it happen. Every time I tried to hit the ball too hard, I started chasing and missing so many balls. So, every time, I'm trying to stay in the middle of the field, put the bat on the ball, and everything is good after that.”

Both Bochy and Hyers, as well as Taveras himself, emphasize Taveras' confidence as a big factor in the way his season is going. 

“Look at the success he's had,” Bochy said. “Yeah, I definitely see that [confidence] up there. I see that even in the outfield with the way he's moving. It’s a sense of ‘I belong here and I’m good.’ It's pretty simple. Not just that [he] belongs here, but that he’s a good player.”

He can still improve, of course, and a little more pop in the bat wouldn’t hurt, but when your nine-hole hitter is playing like Taveras is right now, anybody will take that. 

“It’s a deep order,” Hyers said. “There's a lot of guys who put quality at-bats together, and he's one of them that we’ve been relying on lately.”

“This kid, I said a while back, he's got a high ceiling on him,” Bochy added. “He's an all-around good player. I don’t think we’ve seen the best of him, if I’m being honest.”