Oscar Taveras was widely regarded as the top offensive prospect headed into the 2013 season, as well as one expected to make an immediate impact upon arriving in the major leagues.
In 2012, Taveras—who was promoted directly from Low- to Double-A—destroyed Texas League pitching to the tune of a .321/.380/.572 batting line with 67 extra-base hits (23 home runs), 94 RBI and a 56/42 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 127 games. It also marked the third consecutive season in which the left-handed hitting outfielder posted a .300-plus batting average.
Sadly, Taveras’ highly anticipated 2013 season didn’t unfold as expected. Opening the year at Triple-A Memphis, the 21-year-old suffered a high ankle sprain in late May and it ultimately bothered him throughout the season and led to two separate stints on the disabled list. Overall, Taveras batted .306/.341/.462 with 17 extra-base hits and 32 RBI at Memphis but was limited to only 46 games.
There was a glimmer of hope in mid-August when reports had Taveras nearing a rehab assignment, fueling the belief that the outfielder could still receive a September call-up. Unfortunately, it was announced a few days later that he needed season-ending surgery. The surgery went well, according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, though Taveras was restricted to a walking boot for the following eight weeks. Don’t worry, though; he’s expected to be healthy by spring training.
So, what makes Taveras such a special hitter?
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 21-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.
Over the last two seasons, he 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 negate any strikeout-related concerns.
Taveras is expected to be ready for spring training in 2014, and he could potentially contend for a spot in the Opening Day outfield depending on how Carlos Beltran's free agency plays out during the offseason. I still consider him the best pure hitter in the minor leagues because, well, he is—even when on the disabled list.
Expect him to make up for lost time next season with a monster rookie campaign.