Prospect of the Day: Oscar Taveras, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
St. Louis Cardinals outfield prospect Oscar Taveras is ripping Double-A pitching in the Texas League, hitting .315/.364/.643 thus far for Springfield with 10 homers, 11 doubles, 10 walks, and 19 strikeouts in 143 at-bats. He's one of the best hitting prospects in baseball, yet he's only started to receive proper attention within the last year. Let's remedy that.
Taveras was signed by the Cardinals as a free agent from the Dominican Republic in 2008. He got a decent $145,000 bonus but didn't generate huge accolades or gaudy scouting reports at the time. He hit just .257/.338/.392 in the Dominican Summer League as a 17-year-old in 2009, and at the time he was only known to observers who follow the Cardinals system extremely closely.
That began to change in 2010: he hit .322/.362/.526 in 53 games for Johnson City in the Appalachian League. He had some issues with the strike zone and posted a mediocre 12/41 BB/K ratio, but ranked third in the league batting average hunt and impressed scouts with his bat speed. Moved up to Quad Cities in the Midwest League for 2011, he was stunningly effective, hitting .386/.444/.584 with 32 walks and 52 strikeouts in 308 at-bats. A strong performance in the Arizona Fall League convinced the Cardinals that he was ready for Double-A for 2012, and so far he's been outstanding.
Listed at 6-2, 180, Taveras is a left-handed hitter and thrower, born June 19, 1992. He has a very good throwing arm and has played center field for much of his career, though the general consensus is that speed is his weakest tool and that he'll end up in right. His fielding has been critiqued by some observers and he's not the most polished baserunner, although I think these issues are overblown. People forget that he's just 19. Although Taveras is not the toolsiest player in the universe, he's a good athlete and I think he's a bit underrated on that department. Perhaps some scouts subconsciously downplayed him because he wasn't a huge bonus baby.
His hitting is special and should eliminate any hesitation about his tools. Taveras has explosive bat speed and while some scouts originally wondered how much home run power he would develop, he's answered any questions about that with his home run burst this spring. He is aggressive and doesn't draw a ton of walks, but keeps his strikeout rate low and makes hard contact on pitches many hitters can't handle, showing power to all fields. He handles both fastballs and breaking stuff. The only statistical negative this year is a sharp batting average platoon split: he's hitting .351 against right-handers but just .245 against southpaws. However, he's slugging .551 against lefties and I don't think he will have long-term platoon problems.
Taveras could use a year in the high minors putting polish on his game, but he's an offensive gem and has a shot at winning batting titles in the future.