Many owners planned on Oscar Taveras contending for a Rookie of the Year trophy in 2013, but an ankle injury held him back and St. Louis did not have a glaring need for his bat as they marched to the National League pennant. In 2014 Taveras still faces a climb up the depth chart. Although Carlos Beltran departed, defensive whiz Peter Bourjos is covering center field. Allen Craig is moving to right so Matt Adams can play first base. It is a solid enough lineup that the team can leave Taveras in the minors.
It could be just as well as Taveras’ rehab has not been a quick one. As of January 18th he was not cleared to run at full speed. He was supposed to gain experience in center field last year, but was limited to 46 games. His defense is a work in progress, as are some aspects of his offensive game. As such, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch expects the organization to be cautious and most likely start Taveras in the minors in 2014.
Taveras did not tear through Triple-A as he did to Double-A pitching in 2012. His ISO dropped from .252 to .156. It is uncertain how much the ankle injury held him back, but it stands to reason that he was not 100% when he briefly returned in June. His 4.8% walk rate reveals a possible weakness, as he never exceeded 10%. On the other hand, strikeouts only rose 1.3%, to 11.8%. Even factoring in an adjustment in the majors he projects as a very strong contact hitter.
MLBfarm.com’s spray charts show Taveras hitting to all fields. Four of his five home runs and most of his doubles landed to the left field side of home, the opposite way for Taveras. This hints at why scouts are so high on his batting capabilities. He is already willing to take pitches the other way and he can do so with authority. Still, 48.39% of his balls in play were on the ground. He needs to generate more loft in order to become the middle of the order slugger that scouts expect.
It is impossible to know how much baseball acumen Taveras gained last year. Was he working with coaches, going through at-bats and picking out where he could improve? If so he could hit the field in 2014 with an better set of skills. He is one to watch in Spring Training, even if appearances are not always predictive. Jackie Bradley Jr. is only a recent example of overrating Grapefruit League play. Be cautious in drafting him, but given the success of young players with elite talent owners should pick him up at the first positive sign.