Upon being told that 18-year-old outfielder Oscar Taveras was named The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com Rookie Position Player of the Year for 2010, Cardinals senior field instructor Mark DeJohn immediately validated the decision.
“Oh! Well, you’ve got the right guy,” DeJohn said. “He is an exciting player. When you go to see Johnson City, you’re kind of excited to watch him play.”
Taveras finished third in the Appalachian League with a .322 average, fifth in slugging at .526 and sixth in OPS at .889. He was an effective run producer, tying for fourth in the league with 43 RBI and tying for seventh with eight home runs in just 53 games.
Less than two years ago, Taveras was signed from Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. The left-handed hitter made his debut in the 2009 Dominican Summer League, where he plated 42 runs in 65 games and posted a .257/.338/.392 line.
Recovering from a hamate injury, Taveras opened his 2010 in the Gulf Coast League, but two weeks into the short-season, Johnson City manager Mike Shildt had a new recruit.
“When Oscar got there, it was like ‘put him in kind of easily,’ Shildt recalled. “I hit him seventh the first night and he faced a lefty – he handles lefties very well too, which is why he hits the ball the other way – and he had no fear factor. He hit seventh and went 0-for-4, but you saw him and you go, ‘This guy is not backing down.’
“The next night, I put him in the two hole. He wasn’t backing down from anything. He was ready for it, had a nice game and remained there the rest of the season,” the manager said.
In critical situations, Taveras really stood out. He went 6-for-14 (.429) with 19 RBI with the bases loaded.
“The thing that is intriguing about him that we didn’t want to take away from, is his aggressiveness,” Shildt said. “He will expand the zone, but he’s still got the ability to put good barrel contact on a ball that is out of the zone.
“He’s got power to all fields. As a left-handed hitter, he drives the ball the other way with authority. Actually, that is probably his strength. Most pitchers try to get you out away. That is some degree doing him a favor. He can obviously pull the ball with authority as well. The thing that I think differentiates Oscar is that he knows he can hit.”
Including his .167 start in the GCL, Taveras’ combined .303 average was fourth-highest in the entire Cardinals system this season.
“Hitting is a tough thing,” Shildt remarked. “It is failure oriented. A lot of hitters really struggle with the failure - the uncertainly when that next hit is coming and they are hoping they get it. Oscar expects to hit. He is a real confident hitter. He gets really frustrated when he doesn’t. That is something that no one is going to be able to teach him. That is something he has, an innate ability to hit and the confidence to hit. That is a trait that is going to help him.”
DeJohn sees defense as one aspect of Taveras’ game in which he can progress.
“He is probably an average outfielder,” DeJohn said. “It is an area that he needs to improve on.”
“What he needs to do, like with a lot of young players, is overall sharpening of everything,” the manager said. “He shows it, but he needs to do it in every facet. He’ll show you the ability to position himself. He just needs to be more consistent with it, which will come. He’ll show you the ability to really get a tremendous break on a ball. He’ll show you the ability to take the proper angle to a ball. He’ll show you a nice arm. He just needs consistence with his accuracy and decision-making on where to throw. Experience and maturity with some instruction will overcome virtually all of that.”
I asked the two coaches if Taveras projects as a corner outfielder and if he has the arm to play in right.
“He’s got kind of a long release but he’s got arm strength,” DeJohn observed.
“He’s got speed, but he is not a burner,” Shildt added. “He is never going to be a plus runner. He’s probably an average runner. He’s got the ability to play centerfield. He is going to be one of those guys who has to do everything right to do it – get the jumps, take the positions, take the right angles. He could stay in center. I think he may end up in left field but if he also has the ability to break in at a higher level, to make a club as an extra outfielder, he can play all three.”
As the season drew near its close, Taveras was named one of the three outfielders and 14 players on the Appalachian League All-Star Team. Shildt believes Taveras had a legitimate shot at being the player of the year.
“Oscar could easily have won MVP of the league,” Shildt said. “Oswaldo Arcia of Elizabethton is a nice player and had a bit more consistent numbers across the board, so he got the award.”
For 2011, Taveras has proven he deserves consideration for a berth on a full-season roster.
“Obviously the organization is going to make the determination, but he should compete for a spot on a full-season club next year for sure,” Shildt said. “Whether it is in his best interest to go to a full season club will be decided in spring training.”
DeJohn takes the big picture view.
"He’s probably our best Latin hitting prospect in a long time. That is encouraging.”
Congratulations to Oscar Taveras, The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com Minor League Rookie Position Player of the Year for 2010.
Note: Link to article with all previous award winners across the system club by club as well as 2010 team recaps, exclusively for subscribers.
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Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Selected TCN content appears at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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