Prospects come, and prospects go. Every season, the annual First Year Player Draft is chock full of 18-23 year olds who look like they have the skills, body, and mentality of a franchise cornerstone. The truth is, most prospects rarely turn out to be the player they were projected to be as an ametuer. Tons of players hit like Babe Ruth in high school,are plucked high in the draft, and are placed in the minor leagues with monstrous expectations. Most of these prospects then face the harsh reality that using a wood bat against a 20-year-old Dominican fireballer is in stark contrast to stepping in against a pimply faced 16-year-old who’s main concern in life is who he will take to the homecoming dance. Most of the time, predicting if a younger player will pan out is more or less a crapshoot. For every Mike Trout or Bryce Harper, there are 1,000 Colby Rasmus‘ and J.D. Drews.
Then there’s Oscar Tavares.
Even the most casual baseball fans are familiar with Tavares’ name at this point. After posting a ridiculous average of .386 as a 19-year-old in the Midwest League in 2011, the St. Louis Cardinals top prospect followed up by winning a Texas League MVP with a dazzling line of .321/23/94 and lead his team to a championship in 2012. He showed excellent plate discipline and strike zone judgement, striking out only 56 times in 531 at-bats, or about 10% of the time.
While a gifted hitter, there are some questions about his defensive ability. He played mostly centerfield for Double-A Springfield this past season, however he projects more as a corner outfielder in St. Louis. His speed is good, but not great, as is the case with his throwing arm and first-step instincts. Scouting reports say he is slowly getting better defensively and his speed is up a notch from when he was first drafted.
Tavares passes the eye test. He looks like a ballplayer with a build of 6′-2”/180 lbs. He has a very wide stance, unfathomably quick hands, and explodes through the proverbial “three baseballs” at the point of contact. Scouts gush about his ability but do have a slight concern about his all-or-nothing cut. His natural instincts and ability to make adjustments at the plate should make his violent hack a moot point, however.
What Cardinals fans can expect from Tavares in 2013 is anyone’s guess. Tavares has not played above Double-A, but the Texas League that he just finished thrashing sometimes provides a better judge of young talent than Triple-A due to the high quality of pitching and the fact that there are more players in Tavares’ age group in Double-A. One thing that doesn’t show up on paper is the natural ability that one can obviously see in Tavares. I had the opportunity to watch him play on more than one occasion last season and it is obvious that he is light years ahead of his peers. He carries himself with a confidence that few 20-year-olds have, and the ball sounds like a firecracker coming off of his bat.
There is a chance, although a small one, that Tavares starts the season in St. Louis. The Cardinals outfield projects to have Jon Jay, Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, Shane Robinson, and Adron Chambers tending the pastures at Busch Stadium. If Tavares has an eye-popping spring don’t be surprised if Mike Matheny cant help plugging him in to a fourth outfielder role. At this point he is hands-down a more productive player than Chambers or Robinson, although rushing a player to the big leagues is sometimes detrimental to proper development and can ultimately lower the ceiling for what a guy could become. At this point, there is no reason to think Tavares will end up becoming anything less than a middle of the order .300 hitting, 30-homer crushing production machine. Gm John Mozeliak has called Tavares the finest prospect the organization has seen since Albert Pujols.
2013 will be the first time we see Tavares in the big leagues, weather he makes the roster out of the gate, gets called up when Beltran or Holliday inevitably hit the DL, or as a September call-up. At this point, it’s hard to imagine Tavares will end up as anything less than a middle of the order .300 hitting, 30-homer crushing production machine. If all goes to plan, we could be seeing baseball’s newest star testing his wings for the first time in St. Louis this summer.