Is Cardinals' Oscar Taveras Ready to Skip Triple-A, Chase Rookie of the Year?
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If there’s one young hitter capable of making a successful jump from Double-A to the major leagues, it’s Oscar Taveras.
After batting .386/.444/.584 with 40 extra-base hits in 78 games for Low-A Quad Cities in 2011, the St. Louis Cardinals offered Taveras an aggressive assignment to Double-A Springfield for the 2012 season. And just as he’d done at every previous minor league stop, the 20-year-old outfielder thrived as one of the youngest players at the level.
Despite facing considerably advanced pitching, the left-handed hitter batted .321/.380/.572 with 67 extra-base hits, 10 stolen bases and 56/42 K/BB in 124 games.
More importantly, Taveras—Prospect Pipeline’s No. 3-ranked prospect headed into spring training—started to tap into his raw power and belted a career-high 23 home runs. While his bat has always projected to be a plus tool in the major leagues, the emergence of his above-average-to-plus power distinguishes Taveras the best hitter in the minor leagues.
But what exactly makes Taveras’ bat so special?
Well, the left-handed hitter features an explosive, yet well-balanced, swing that enables him to keep the bat head in the zone for an extended period of time. As a result, he seemingly always achieves a favorable point of contact, while his extension through the ball allows him to generate backspin carry to all fields.
However, it’s Taveras’ unparalleled hand-eye coordination and bat-to-ball ability that separates him from other highly regarded young hitters. Additionally, the 20-year-old’s ability to drive the ball the other way is already more advanced than a lot of big league hitters, and only stands to improve with additional experience against top-notch pitching.
Amazingly, that’s only part of what makes Taveras such a promising young hitter.
Over the last two seasons, the 20-year-old has drawn an increasing number of comparisons to Vladimir Guerrero due to his aggressive, free-swinging approach, as well as his knack for consistently centering pitches throughout (and even outside) the strike zone. Taveras simply hits everything: fastballs, breaking balls, off-speed pitches, same-side pitching, pitcher’s pitches—you name it and he can barrel it, effortlessly.
And while his approach may be challenged more at the major league level, Taveras should always make enough contact to the point where strikeouts are a nonissue.
So, could Taveras make the jump from Double-A to the major leagues this year? Absolutely.
However, unless he has a path to everyday playing time in the Cardinals’ outfield, it’s simply not going to happen. Taveras is going to hit in the major leagues regardless of when he arrives. That being said, there’s no reason for the organization to alter his course of development out of preference.
If one of the team’s outfielders suffers an injury this spring and is considered doubtful for Opening Day, then his promotion to the major leagues would be out of necessity.
Either way, Taveras is poised to make his big league debut at some point this season. Like any young hitter, he’s bound to struggle at times against more advanced pitching. However, the 20-year-old’s swing and approach make him virtually slump-proof, and his ability to make swift adjustments at such a young age only lends to his already insanely high ceiling.
With the potential to be one of baseball’s top players in his prime (possibly sooner), it makes no difference whether Taveras opens the 2013 season in Double-A, Triple-A or the major leagues.
He’s going to hit the snot out of the ball because, well, that’s what he does. Therefore, the Cardinals will let their prized prospect continue his natural ascension through their immensely talented farm system. But once he arrives in the major leagues, Taveras will be there to stay.
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