Yesterday the St. Louis Cardinals announced that they were calling Oscar Taveras up from AAA Memphis and placing first baseman Matt Adams on the disabled list with a calf strain. The promotion of Taveras has been highly anticipated for years now, and his debut in the Major Leagues will be closely watched. Here are five observations/predictions on what is probably the most hyped Cardinals prospect since Rick Ankiel.
1. It was time
Taveras has now had 395 plate appearances at AAA and has sustained a .800+ OPS over that time even though he was playing on a bad ankle over half those appearances. Over the last two weeks Taveras hit for a .400 average with a .443 OBP and a .618 SLUG. Taveras had nothing left to learn in AAA, and given the underwhelming offensive start to the Cardinals' season it was time to let Taveras have a chance.
2. The pressure on Taveras is unbelievably high
What about expectations? Well Taveras has been rated as a top 10 prospect by every major publication for the last two years. Nearly every analysts predicts Taveras to be an offensive star from the moment he arrives on the big league level. Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak has called Taveras the best hitting prospect the club has produced since Albert Pujols. Yesterday, a member of the media made a Freudian slip and asked Mozeliak about the "Albert" callup.
Rather than arriving as part of a well-oiled offensive machine Taveras is being viewed as the answer to a team that was suppose to be World-Series caliber already. Oh and add to that the fact that Manager Mike Matheny has shown a near insane amount of loyalty toward veterans like Jon Jay which results and an extraordinarily short leash for rookies like Taveras. Yes, it is fair to say that Taveras has a bit of pressure.
3. All indications are Taveras can handle it
Some players wilt under the pressure and others thrive on it. From what little we know of Taveras he appears to be in the second group. Taveras has been part of two championship teams in the minor leagues. With both teams Taveras excelled in playoff performances. When healthy Taveras excelled in Spring Training when he was trying to earn a roster spot in 2013. Scouting reports say again and again that Taveras enjoys, indeed thrives on being challenged.
4. It will be interesting to see how Taveras is received by his teammates and manager
St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz has written extensively about what appears to be some friction between Taveras, teammates, and Manager Mike Matheny. Matheny, as mentioned earlier, prefers players who have earned his trust over time, and the club as a whole seemingly favors the "scrappy" type player whose production exceeds his talent.
Taveras does not fit that profile. Taveras is confident in his ability, and his production matches his extraordinary talent (Lord knows what it would look like if Taveras exceeded it). Taveras was cautious with his ankle in spring which apparently frustrated some members of the club. Taveras is bound to make a few mental mistakes such as missing his cutoff man or not going from second to third on a deep fly ball.
If Taveras fails to perform then there will probably be no grace when it comes to his' mistakes. If Taveras succeeds at the plate will the club be patient enough to work through the rough edges that constitute the other aspects of his game? The jury is out.
5. The potential loser here is Matt Adams
Adams is hitting for a .325 average with a .811 OPS, and on any other team that should be good enough for regular playing time. However, if Tavears lights it up over the next ten days and makes it impossible for him to be sent back down Adams may be the one who loses the most playing time.
Consider the following pieces in the Cardinals' playing time jigsaw puzzle:
- Allen Craig appears to have finally found his stoke after struggling for the better part of two months. Compared to Adams, Craig has more of an established resume as a big league hitter.
- While his average and OPS are good, Adams has disappointed with runners in scoring position and failed to produce the home run numbers a 6'3" 260 pound first baseman should.
- Center field now appears filled up with a combination of Jon Jay, Peter Bourjos, and Randal Grichuk.
- Tavearas, if he stays, will be entrenched in right field.
That essentially means Craig, and his bigger contract, plays first base and Matt Adams suddenly finds himself Wally Pipped by Tavears, albeit indirectly.