The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com Player Profile
(including links to full 2011 and career stats)
Home: Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
Selected 2011 stats
CariocaCardinal (3): At this point in 2011, prospect watchers were debating whether Oscar Taveras deserved a top 10 ranking in the Cardinals system. Now they are debating whether he is a top 50 prospect in all of baseball.
Taveras accomplished this ascension by destroying Midwest League pitching and with a 1.028 OPS which was nearly 15% higher than the next highest non-first baseman in the league. He accomplished this by being one of the youngest players in the league.
The most impressive part of Taveras' 2012 season is how he was able to quiet his critics over his biggest weakness – an inability to take walks. He improved his bases on balls rate from around 5% of plate appearances to just over 9% while simultaneously reducing his strikeout rate. He also improved in his other weakness of 2010 - hitting left-handed pitching.
Many think Taveras could skip High-A Palm Beach altogether in 2012 and go straight to Double-A Springfield as Matt Adams did last year. While I agree he may have the baseball ability to do that, I think (and hope) the Cards will send him to Palm Beach until they make sure he is mature enough emotionally to handle the jump. The last thing the Cards need is another Shelby Miller-type situation.
Message board community (2): Taveras clocked in at second on the community list, a rise from eighth place last year. Given the competition, moving up the rankings signifies impressive improvement.
Scouting reports and members of the community raved about how hard Taveras hits the ball. The left-handed hitter handled lefties (OPS of 1.033) as well as righties (1.026). He hit better at home (OPS of 1.183) than on the road (.878). His walk rate increased from around 3% before June to 8.6% in July and 12.8% in August and September.
Taveras did receive a vote for first in the community rankings. (This was from my co-writer BobReed, whose arguments I am borrowing much of what I write about Mr. Taveras.) Jason Parks from Baseball Prospectus listed Taveras as having the best "hit tool" in the minors. Taveras had an OPS .335 over the average for the Midwest League. Last time someone came even close to that as a teenager was Alex Rodriguez' .274. The last teen to exceed .300 was Larry Walker at .319.
Comparisons to other players can be difficult. In some cases, the only instances that come to mind are the famous ones, and I tend to discount those comparisons because of the limits of human judgment. There might be many examples that are obscure, so not called easily to mind. But Bob's analysis seems to be systematic (considering all possible competitors), so not subject to memory biases. When the only others to excel in the way that Taveras has are Rodriguez and Walker, I get very excited.
The main questions about Taveras were about his defense and health. There were some reports that he was unlikely to be a center fielder and perhaps would not even become particularly good in the corners. Some of his defensively difficulty is certainly youth and inexperience. Some might be from his hamstring troubles this year slowing him down. (Whereas he stole nine bases in 2010, he only stole one this year, despite having more at-bats, suggesting his speed was, indeed, down this year). Those two problems should lessen with time.
Taveras' arm is apparently not strong. It will be important to watch his defense. If he can play center, he is obviously a stronger prospect than if he is limited to left. It certainly would not surprise me if he is limited to left field. Taveras has had injury problems last year and this. They do not seem to be career threatening to me, but it will be good to see him play a full season.
Overall, I am very bullish on Taveras. I think he will start the season in the Florida State League. His defense is suspect enough that I would not think the Cards would move him too aggressively. I suspect his hitting will be good enough that there will be a position for him somewhere in MLB for a long while. - Gagliano
Brian Walton (3): The question of whether or not Taveras will be given the spring training opportunity to earn the chance to start the season at Double-A Springfield was answered for me when he was sent to the prestigious Arizona Fall League in 2011.
As a Dominican, Taveras required special permission to be allowed to compete in the AFL. He became the second-youngest player in the league to Washington phenom Bryce Harper, Scout.com's number three-ranked player in the minor leagues for 2012. Taveras is ranked 35th overall on the Scout.com top 100, and eighth among all outfield prospects.
Taveras validated the Cardinals' decision by more than holding his own against the elite talent assembled in the desert, much of which is Double-A and/or Triple-A tested. Following the AFL season, Taveras was named the number 11 prospect in the entire league by MLB.com.
Taveras is certainly not a finished product, but remember, he is still a teenager coming out of A-ball. The Cardinals' coach in the AFL this year, Ace Adams, made this assessment. "He is young, but he is getting a lot better in the outfield and running the bases," said Adams. "He is a player to keep an eye on because that bat is special."
The only real downside in Taveras' Arizona performance was that his late-season progress in taking walks evaporated, but that may be attributable to the leap in competition. On the positive side, he batted .307 and his OPS was just .008 behind the more-experienced slugger Matt Adams.
Like Adams the year before, Taveras was kept by the Cardinals at Quad Cities for the entire 2011 season, though any temptation to promote him more quickly was likely tempered by two considerable stints on the disabled list due to hamstring injuries. The second was apparently caused by coming back too quickly from the first.
As I said at the start, I think Taveras' spring performance will dictate where he begins in 2012. If he continues to hit, I think he will be allowed to make the same jump as Adams. On the other hand, if he is assigned to Palm Beach instead, it should not be considered a setback in any way. Taveras will be rejoining his 2010 Johnson City skipper Mike Shildt in Springfield soon enough.
Our 2012 top 40 countdown continues: To see the list of top Cardinals prospects announced to date and remaining article schedule, click here. You can also read each of the voters' philosophies in making their selections.
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