With all the recent focus on the upcoming 2014 MLB draft, let's not forget that the St. Louis Cardinals promoted top outfield prospect Oscar Taveras to the major leagues this past weekend. Obviously this is the perfect time to examine Taveras as Minor League Ball's Prospect of the Day.
The Cardinals signed Oscar Taveras out of the Dominican Republic in November, 2008. He was not a big-ticket, big-hype international player: he earned a $145,000 bonus, which isn't nothing but also pales in comparison to the larger bonuses given out in '08:
|1) Michael Ynoa||RHP
|2) Rafael Rodriguez||OF
||Dominican Republic||$2.55 million
|3) Yorman Rodriguez||OF
|4) Adys Portillo||RHP
|5) Luis Domoromo||OF
|T-6) Roberto De La Cruz||3B
|T-6) Julio Morban||OF
||Dominican Republic||$1.1 million
|8. Alvaro Aristy||SS
||16||Dominican Republic||$1 million
|9. Gian Carlos Arias||SS
|10. Ramon Flores
Oscar didn't earn a huge bonus because his physical tools didn't stand out in showcases and workouts.
After a so-so debut in the Dominican Summer League (.257/.338/.392) in '09, Taveras opened in North America in 2010 by hitting .322/.362/.526 in 53 games for Johnson City in the Appalachian League, ranking third in the batting title hunt. His running speed and arm strength weren't outstanding, but it was immediately apparent that he had very good bat speed and would likely hit for average at higher levels, though it wasn't certain how much home run power would develop. There were also some complaints about an unconventional swing, but the results were clear.
Promoted to Quad Cities in the Midwest League for 2011, Taveras hit a devastating .386/.444/.584 in 78 games, answering any questions about his ability to hit in full-season ball. This also quieted any criticisms about his swing. Moved up to Double-A Springfield in 2012, he hit .321/.380/.572 with 23 homers, 42 walks, and just 56 strikeouts in 477 at-bats. He led the league in hitting and was named MVP.
Expected to make his big league debut sometime in 2013, Taveras was instead limited to 46 games in Triple-A by an ankle fracture, though in those 46 games he hit a sound .306/.341/.462 for Memphis. He's hitting .325/.373/.524 there this year, or at least he was before moving up to the majors. Overall he is a career .321/.377/.519 hitter in the minors. When healthy, he's dominated every level since leaving the Dominican Summer League. If you take out the DSL numbers, he's hit .331/.384/.541 since reaching North America.
A left-handed hitter and thrower, Taveras is listed at 6-2, 200, born June 19, 1992. Taveras is an aggressive hitter, but unlike many such hitters he makes hard contact on anything you throw him: even if you fool him in a particular at-bat, he can still hit the ball hard. His strikeout rates are low and his exceptional bat speed allows him to hit the ball over the fence to any field. He hit 12 homers in his career at Memphis: eight were pulled to right field, four were hit to left, and from seeing him in person I can attest that he'll drive the ball to any part of the park.
Taveras as played all three outfield positions in the minors, spending the majority of his time in center field. He's playable but a little stretched there. In the big leagues I think he fits best in a corner, and he throws well enough to handle right field. His effort on defense is erratic and it is clear that he loves to hit more than anything.
Do what you love, they say.
If he avoids further injury problems, Oscar Taveras is the type of hitter who will win batting championships and become a frequent All-Star. Not bad for a $145,000 investment.