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Mike Trout and Bryce Harper have polluted our minds. Many now expect that when a player is called up that he will immediately perform at All-Star levels. It certainly does happen, but more often than not what occurs is a learning curve of sorts. After all, do you remember that Mike Trout hit .220 with a .672 OPS over his first 40 games in the big leagues? Of course you don't, but it's a fact. He was overmatched at the start of his career. The assumption is that Oscar Taveras, who did nothing but fan the flames with a homer in his first game with the Cardinals, will be a star this season. Is that fair to expect from the outfielder? We'll investigate.
Oscar Taveras could be the #1 hitting prospect in baseball. If he isn't, he's right at the top of the list. Here are those lists of the top prospects in the game.
2012: 74th best prospect in baseball
2013: 3rd best
2014: 3rd best
2013: 3rd best prospect in baseball
2014: 3rd best
2012: 23rd best prospect in baseball
2013: 2nd best
2014: 3rd best
Everyone agrees the kid's talent is elite.
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Standing 6'2” and weighing 200 lbs, the soon to be 22 year old Oscar Taveras unleashes an aggressive swing with a long follow through to send balls arching into space (he turns 22 on June 19th). Despite that somewhat long stroke, his bat remains very flat through the hitting zone, so even though it appears that he has an uppercut he really doesn't: it's just a high follow through. Many think upon first watching him that he would be prone to the strikeout. He isn't. In 423 minor league games he struck out just 237 times, a remarkable total in this day and age. Now he doesn't exactly walk a lot, he's only picked up 139 free passes but his 0.59 BB/K rate is better than a lot of youngsters coming out of the minors.
Taveras spent 2012 at Double-A in 2012 and hit .321 with 23 homers and 94 RBIs in just 124 games. Taveras spent 2013 at Triple-A. He hit once again batting .306 with five homers and 32 RBIs in just 46 games. You might notice that in those two seasons he had a total of 170 games played. Yep, not good. Taveras has been injured a bit too much for my liking. Perhaps it's just bad timing/luck, or perhaps we've got another Carlos Gonzalez on our hands. Just pointing that out (voice of reason perhaps?). The big issue that has dogged him are ankle woes. He had surgery in 2013, and he started 2014 slowly as he continued to have woes with his lower half. Once healthy, his bat started doing the talking. Taveras hit .325 with seven homers and 40 RBIs over 49 games at Triple-A before his call up.
I'm not gonna lie, the dude has amazing talent. On the 20-80 grading scale that scouts use, Taveras is routinely seen with a 70/75 mark as a hitter, and it's extremely rare to find a player ranked that highly. He constantly barrels balls up, even with his aggressive stroke, and as I noted he doesn't strike out much. He can spray the ball all over the field with power and profiles as a potential middle of the order bat on championship level teams. To put it another way, if this guy doesn't make the All-Star team 10 times he's going to be viewed as a disappointment.
The only negative about his offensive game is that he's not a base stealer. His season best is 10 thefts and with all the issues he's had with his lower half one would think the Cardinals would be very careful with asking him to run. Not saying he's gonna have the red light, but he stole a total of 26 bags in 423 minor league games so it's not like he's looking likely to be much of a thief on the basepaths in 2014.
Taveras will hit period. The question though is will he hit immediately, and will he hit enough to be a mixed league weapon in fantasy baseball? A few key thoughts.
Re-read the numbers that I listed for Mike Trout at the top of the piece for some perspective.
Note that George Springer, who has gone nuts lately, was nearly sent back to the minors after hitting .182 with a .480 OPS over his first 61 plate appearances.
Take note of the early career struggles of other elite prospects such as Wil Myers this year.
Understand that the game is not that easy.
Understand that it's very possible that Taveras will struggle at the start of his career.
Understand that he's unlikely to steal bases limiting his fantasy value.
Understand that you should not be looking at him to save your fantasy season.
Oscar Taveras should be added in just about every format out there. His talent is immense. There is no disputing that fact. Will he be a fantasy superstar in year one? I say that's unlikely. He's gonna have to hit right out of the gate since he isn't likely to offer much on the basepaths, so I'd be looking at him as if he was a 5th outfielder type in mixed leagues. If you have him at that level you will be pumped up if he excels and not too terribly disappointed if he struggles. You know me, I'm always cautious with youngsters, even those with a future as undeniably bright as that of Oscar Taveras.