Oscar Taveras has become a household name for St. Louis fans and he has yet to play a game in Major League Baseball. He is baseball's top prospect. He is considered the future of the St. Louis Cardinals. He is an outfield bat the team needs.
But is he capable of playing center field?
There is very little doubt that Taveras can hit. Over the course of five minor league seasons, he has posted a .320 batting average and a .518 slugging percentage, and he hit 45 home runs. He hit 23 of those home runs in 2012. The 2012 season put his name in front of the baseball world. Expectations ran high going into 2013 for the then-20-year old.
Injuries limited his 2013 season to just 188 at-bats, and the outfielder would not receive the late-season promotion that many felt inevitable. His time would be on hold until the 2014 season. Roster speculation has led many to count on Taveras as part of the roster already. Many were questioning if the young man could play at the big league level at this point in his career. Now, they are wondering where he will play on the field next year in the big leagues.
Taveras could play in right field and assume the position that Carlos Beltran has possibly vacated. He could take over in center field and allow Allen Craig to assume the right field role.
The later choice is the one that is causing the most discussion.
Taveras is a natural right fielder. Mark DeJohn, the Cardinals field coordinator, shared that information as well as thoughts on Taveras' ability to play center with Kary Booher of the Springfield News-Leader.
"You always try to put a guy in a position where he can create the most value (for your club)," he said. "I think he lacks the foot speed (for center). But could he go out there and play there at times? Yeah. He could probably do that."
Taveras playing center field relies heavily on Allen Craig and his ability to play right field. John Mozeliak seemed to have no concerns about that when talking with Derrick Goold of StLToday.com.
"When you think back to his (knee) injury a couple years ago, it was an accident," he said. "You think back to this year, and it was just a freak play. I think he’s growing through this. He’s understanding that offseason preparation can alleviate some of this."
The goal for the Cardinals seems to be to find a way to get Craig, Taveras and Matt Adams in the same lineup consistently. That will require Taveras to put in a lot of work and become an adequate center fielder in the major leagues.
He is a raw athlete who many people feel can achieve that exact goal, should he be willing to dedicate himself to the task. In the past, he has been typecast as a player who was unwilling to work to get better. Jim Callis of MLB.com, as noted in the above referenced News-Leader column, feels Taveras has shed that tag and shown a strong work ethic toward getting better.
He will need to continue to show that work ethic in Spring Training next year. He will also need to show that he has fully recovered from the foot injuries that slowed most of his 2013 season.
It is quite possible that he will be given the chance to prove all of these things in Grapefruit League play in March.
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All statistics in this article are courtesy of Baseball-Reference and current as of November 7, 2013.