As perhaps the game’s top hitting prospect, Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras has become a household name to baseball fans, and not only in St. Louis. When the 21-year-old Taveras ranked no. 2 on Baseball Prospectus’ recently released mid-season top 50 prospects list, Jason Parks wrote that Taveras “will eventually settle in as a middle-of-the-order hitter at the highest level, where he should develop into a perennial all-star and possible MVP candidate.” It’s high praise for a prospect who has yet to appear in a major-league game, but it’s also a sentiment that is echoed by scouts throughout the industry.
Having posted a .321/.380/.572 slash line in his age-20 season at Double-A Springfield in 2012, Taveras appeared on the cusp of reaching St. Louis as 2013 approached. He looked even closer after impressing with a strong performance in big-league camp this spring, hitting .289 while seeing action in 24 games.
The 2013 campaign is now past its halfway point, and Cardinals everyday center fielder Jon Jay has slumped through much of the season, hitting just .244/.322/.331 while appearing in 79 of his team’s 82 games. Taveras, meanwhile, has a .306/.341/.462 slash line in 46 Triple-A contests.
In a perfect world, Taveras, who turned 21 just two weeks ago, would already be patrolling center at Busch Stadium. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, their top prospect has been slowed by a nagging high ankle sprain, and he has been unable to stay in the lineup.
Taveras initially injured his ankle while sliding into second base on May 12. The injury landed him on the disabled list until June 8. But the Dominican Republic native still didn’t seem fully healthy when he returned; while his bat was plenty fine, he was noticeably limping around the basepaths and outfield. He aggravated the ankle injury while scoring on a teammate’s home run on June 23 before returning to the disabled list two days later.
In the long run, Taveras’ ankle sprain should be little more than a speed bump on his path to the major leagues. However, with Jay currently riding his biggest slump of the season thus far, and given Taveras’ recent nomination to the All-Star Futures Game roster (July 14), it comes at an inopportune time for the Cardinals and baseball fans alike.
When Taveras was in Round Rock for a recent series––a few days before he aggravated his ankle injury––I caught up with the uber-prospect to talk about his big-league dreams, his season thus far, and his hard-swinging ways.