We've already begun our encompassing look at the outfield position with the release of our consensus top 75 outfielders for the 2014 season. We will not be releasing a top prospect list by position this year, so there is no list of top 20 outfield prospects coming, for the simple reason that ranking them for position isn't likely to help a lot of fantasy owners. Instead, as a part of each position, the prospect staff will look at a few prospects at each position who could potentially have an impact during the 2014 season. Next up on the list is Oscar Taveras of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Weight: 200 lbs.
On 40-Man Roster: Yes
Options Remaining: 3
DOB: 6/19/1992 (Age 22 season)
Taveras was signed by the Cardinals out of the Dominican Republic in 2008 to a bonus of $145K, and debuted in the Dominican Summer League the following year. He debuted stateside in 2010, spending most of the year at Johnson City in the Appalachian League and hitting .322 with eight home runs and eight stolen bases. He was viewed as an interesting prospect in the Cardinals' system at the time (#24 by BA), but it was just an early sign of things to come.
Taveras was promoted to full-season Low-A for the 2011 campaign, and despite missing nearly two months with injuries, led the league with a .386/.444/.584 slash line with 8 home runs and 62 runs batted in over just 78 games. He ended up as a top 5 prospect on nearly every prospect list for the Cardinals that offseason, and was viewed as a back-end top 100 prospect.
Despite just those 78 games, the Cardinals skipped Taveras over High-A, and sent him straight to AA Springfield for the 2012 season. On the strength of a .321/.380/.572 slash line and 23 home runs, Taveras was named MVP of the Texas League and finished as a top five overall prospect on most prospect lists.
He was invited to Spring Training for the 2013 season, and was expected at some point to be in the Majors before season's end. Unfortunately, his season was marred by an ankle injury that needed surgery by the end of the year, and only appeared in 46 games total at AAA. Despite this, (and completely as expected), the team added him to the 40-man roster this offseason.
The Scouting Report
The scouting report starts for Taveras with his bat speed, widely considered to be elite, and he matches it up with the ability to make hard contact and drive the ball consistently. His hit tool is considered elite, and has the potential for him to be an elite contributor for batting average. He also has outstanding power potential, considered to have the possibility to hit 30+ home runs a season.
He's not expected to be a burner on the base paths, and there will be questions about how his speed plays out following his ankle injury. He wasn't expected to provide a ton of value in terms of stolen bases to begin with, but should be good for a few each season at least. Defensively, Taveras has the potential to still play center field, although is expected to move to right field long-term.
What's Keeping Him From Contributing Now?
The ankle injury slowed Taveras' timeline somewhat, and the Cardinals' acquisition of Peter Bourjos likely closed up the easiest opening for Taveras to see consistent major league playing time. If a trade or injury occurs amongst Allen Craig, Matt Adams, or Bourjos, Taveras would likely be the first call up. If not, it's still possible that he ends up as one of the backup outfielders on the team, as his bat would still have value to the Cardinals off the bench.
When Could He Arrive?
Taveras will be up at some point during the 2014 season, and will most likely be an everyday player by season's end.
What Can He Do When He Gets There?
With full playing time, Taveras has the potential to be a perennial .300 hitter with 25-30 home run power, a prototypical #3 hitter in a very good lineup.
Taveras has received a ton of hype over the past couple of seasons, and with good reason. He can be a potential first round draft pick for fantasy in some seasons, and a top 10 outfielder throughout his prime. For perspective, there were only four hitters last year that hit over .300 and hit 30+ home runs, which is the potential upside of Taveras. He doesn't have a clear path to consistent playing time right now, but at some point he's going to be a starter in the outfield for the Cardinals. He's our #69 outfielder on our consensus rankings, and will be a top 5 prospect on our upcoming top 200 fantasy prospects. I don't believe that his potential ceiling has changed in the slightest with the lost year, and if you have an owner in your league that does, you'd be wise to try to make a trade for him.
Jason Hunt is a contributing writer for Fake Teams, specializing in the minor leagues and prospects. You can follow him on Twitter @jasonsbaseball