Buried at the bottom of most prospect lists as recently as last year, Oscar Taveras has had somewhat of a Mike Trout-like ascent to the top five of nearly every publication. Like the boy wonder in Anaheim who was at the bottom of many lists in 2010, Taveras now is regarded as the best pure hitter in the minor leagues—after being relatively unknown last season.
There are several reasons for the meteoric rise, but Taveras' bat has been the predominant factor. After jumping on the radar with a .386 batting average last year as a teenager, Taveras made a brilliant transition to Springfield (AA) for the Cardinals, where he hit .321 and was named Player of the Year for the Texas League.
Also surprising was the emergence of power for Taveras, who, in one year, increased his home run total from eight to 23 and bolstered his RBI total from 62 to 94. As recently as 2009, Taveras managed just one home run in more than 200 at-bats, so the power has to be a pleasant addition for St. Louis.
Whether something clicked or Taveras simply got stronger, the 23 home runs in 477 at-bats shows a significant jump considering he hit just 16 home runs during the past two seasons in 549 at-bats. The high average has always been there, but Taveras' RBI, slugging percentage, OPS and total bases have all steadily increased in each of his four professional seasons.
Originally signed as an nondrafted free agent in 2008 out of the Dominican Republic, Taveras went somewhat unnoticed until he broke out in a big way in 2011. Even Bowman, notorious for printing first-year rookie cards of prospects soon after their signing, held back on issuing a Taveras card until the 2012 prospect set was released.
Now just 20 years old, Taveras has already shown his bat may be ready for the major leagues—putting the Cardinals in a dilemma about their top prospect's future.
With a crowded outfield including names like Matt Holliday, Allen Craig and Jon Jay, St. Louis is in no rush to fast-track their prized youngster. Taveras doesn't excel defensively, so he would be best-suited for left field in the majors.
That being said, pure hitters like Taveras certainly don't grow on trees, so St. Louis will likely be tempted to audition him at some point soon to see how he adjusts. With Taveras ticketed to spring training in 2013, the organization will get a good look at one of the best hitting prospects in the minors.