Pipeline Perspectives: Taveras holds best Cards
Outfielder ready to step into lineup, make bigger impact in '14 than Tigers' Castellanos
There's a good amount of subjectivity regarding baseball prospects. With the evaluation of talent being in the eye of the beholder, finding consensus is often difficult. Even Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo at MLBPipeline.com don't always see eye-to-eye. They'll be discussing their viewpoints regularly in a feature called Pipeline Perspectives. Submit a topic for them to debate.
The Cardinals nearly won their second World Series in the past three years, falling two games short against the Red Sox after leading the National League with 97 victories and breezing through the first two rounds of the playoffs.
St. Louis had more homegrown players on its roster than any of the other nine playoff teams, and an impressive crop of rookies helped fuel its postseason run. That bunch included Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, Trevor Rosenthal, Matt Adams, Pete Kozma, Carlos Martinez, Kevin Siegrist and Seth Maness.
The bad news for the rest of baseball is that the Cards have more young talent on the way. First and foremost, outfielder Oscar Taveras is poised to have a greater impact in the Major Leagues in 2014 than any position-player prospect in any organization.
Jonathan Mayo's choice, the Tigers' Nick Castellanos, is a quality outfield prospect in his own right. But Taveras is a more talented hitter and has a better opportunity to get everyday playing time as a rookie.
On a different team, Taveras might have gotten regular playing time this year. He entered the season challenging Rangers infielder Jurickson Profar for the distinction of ranking as the game's top prospect, and Taveras was coming off consecutive batting titles and three straight playoff championships in the Minor Leagues.
The Cardinals already had a set outfield of Matt Holliday, Jon Jay and Carlos Beltran, however, so Taveras was destined to start the season with Triple-A Memphis. Any chance Taveras had of cracking the big league roster this year ended in May, when he hurt his right ankle. He eventually had surgery in August to repair ligament damage and should be 100 percent by the start of Spring Training.
That injury is the only thing that has slowed Taveras. Signed out of the Dominican Republic for $145,000 in 2008, he has batted .320/.377/.518 as a pro. Taveras is an aggressive yet controlled and balanced hitter, with a smooth left-handed swing and a talent for barreling the ball. His power and plate discipline continue to improve -- he's just 21 years old -- and he projects to contend for batting titles while hitting 20-25 homers per season in his prime.
Earlier in his career, Taveras had a reputation for caring almost solely about hitting and not enough about the other aspects of his game. He has shed that tag, working hard on his defense to the point where he can play a solid center field. An average runner who won't steal much but isn't a liability on the basepaths, Taveras profiles best as a right fielder and has the arm strength for the position.
Taveras gives the Cards multiple options for 2014. If the 36-year-old Beltran departs as a free agent, Taveras can take over in right field. If Jay continues to regress offensively and defensively, Taveras provides an alternative in center.
One way or another, Taveras will find his way into St. Louis' lineup and make a difference. The Cardinals' group of newcomers won't be as deep in 2014 as it was this year, but they will have two leading NL Rookie of the Year Award candidates in Taveras and second baseman Kolten Wong. Taveras could hit .280 with 30 doubles and 15 homers if he gets regular playing time -- and that might be selling him short.