Every Monday I will be taking an in-depth look at a player who could potentially get called up to the Majors this year, and could be useful to fantasy owners as a result. In some cases, it could a top prospect (like today's), and in other cases it could be a player in the minors who would benefit from an opportunity in the bigs, especially if an injury or trade occurs.
In today's case, I'm taking a look at a prospect who is probably not going to be up in the Majors this year, but he's already reached AA despite his young age and could be up at some point in 2013. Unfortunately, he may be most well known around baseball as the minor league guy from Spring Training. That prospect is Cardinals' right fielder Oscar Taveras.
Weight: 180 lbs
Age at End of 2012 Season: 20
On 40-Man Roster: No
Taveras was signed by the Cardinals out of the Dominican Republic in 2008 for $145,000. He spent the 2009 season in the Dominican Summer League and did not make his stateside debut until 2010. He spent 7 games in the Gulf Coast League, but was sent to short-season rookie ball in Johnson City, TN for 56 more. He started to show up on prospect radars after his performance there, hitting .322/.362/.526 with 8 home runs, 13 doubles, and 3 triples in just 53 games.
He was sent to the full-season Midwest League, where he proceeded to win the batting title with a .386 batting average. He also hit 8 home runs and drove in 62 runs in just 78 games there, despite being just 18 years old for most of the season. The organization challenged him by sending him to the Arizona Fall League after the 2011 season, where he hit .307/.312/.403 with a home run, and no walks against 12 strikeouts.
What's Stopping Him From Contributing Now?
There are realistically three things that I see keeping him from being in the Majors right now.
1) His Status on the 40-man Roster (He's Not on It)
There are currently 8 outfielders on the 40-man roster for the Cardinals, and none of them are Taveras. The 40-man is also full at the moment, so if they wanted to add him they would have to remove somebody else from the roster. Add in that Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday are holding down both corner outfield spots for this year, and Holliday is obviously under contract for the foreseeable future as well.
2) His Inconsistent Ability to Draw a Walk
Taveras posted a 9.2% walk rate during his stint in the Midwest League, but that was easily the highest rate he's shown over an extended period of time. Thus far this year, he has drawn just 1 walk in 86 plate appearances in AA.
3) The Fear of Exposure to Better Pitching
Taveras has only played 20 games above Low-A to this point, and only 98 games in a full-season league of any kind. While he has shown an extremely strong ability to make solid contact, I have to believe that this will start to show holes as he faces better and better pitching. (That's definitely not guaranteed, just seems likely).
His swing is extremely violent (as seen here) at times, and yet he still manages to make solid contact most of the time. It seems to me that pitchers with excellent offspeed offerings would potentially expose that swing, but we probably won't know for sure until at least later in the season.
What Could He Do When He Is Called Up?
Taveras seems right now like he could post a solid batting average, but it may match his on base percentage almost exactly. If he continues to develop, he could turn out to provide both a high batting average and solid power. The upside if he develops seems to be a middle-of-the-order hitter, but that could be at least a couple of years from now.
When Does He Seem Likely To Get There?
Taveras seems likely to me to spend the entire 2012 season at AA, as he will still be just 20 years old at the end of the year. I have to imagine that the Cardinals are hoping he will start to show a better ability to take a walk, but it's hard to argue with his performance to this point. He has hit for a high average at every level thus far, even AA. I could realistically see him spending the 2013 season at AAA, and taking over in RF for the Cardinals by the start of the 2014 season.
Taveras is EXTREMELY interesting in terms of a prospect. He hit his 6th home run of the season yesterday, and he is still just 19 years old and already at AA. He realistically could be a top 20 prospect by the end of the season, and potentially a top 5 one. I would really like to see him take a few more walks, but until it shows itself as a problem with his batting average, they probably won't change what is working.