The National League Division Series starts tonight and the focus is centered on Adam Wainwright and Clayton Kershaw as the dueling aces face off tonight in Game 1. The series will come down to which team pierces the other team’s pitching staff the most. Each team has the arms to go deep into the postseason. It will come down to the bats. I am thinking about the potential of one bat this morning. Oscar Taveras. Outside of Sam Bradford, you won’t find a more polarizing name in St. Louis sports at the moment.
In case you lived under a rock for the better portion of the 2014 season, Taveras has been a hot topic for discussion. You either love him, hate him or are tired of talking about him. He was the monstrously talented prospect who burst onto the scene on May 31st and blasted a home run in his 2nd at bat as a Cardinal and since that moment, fell down a very steep hill of expectations. To the common Cards fan, he is a bust. After a season of part time action in right field and some pinch hitting duty, people around the city are calling it quits on the kid. They like Randal Grichuk better. Grichuk wasn’t as highly touted and had a good September. Grichuk is a better defensive player as well, so in the eyes of the fans, he deserves to start over Oscar. I can see that point yet urge fans to wait on dismissing Taveras.
Dismissing the kid would be judging a book by its first few 30 pages. A lot of fans think that way these days and it’s hard to shift that focus. With prospects, it’s what have you done lately and not what you will do in the future. It’s backwards but it’s reality. I think Taveras is going to be a better player than Randal Grichuk when their careers are finished. That’s just something I believe. I think we are only seeing the beginning of something special with Oscar.
Sometimes, prospects don’t burst onto the scene and blow minds. Sometimes, it takes a while. Taveras destroyed Memphis pitching and arrived in the majors a little too soon. Expectations will thrust on his shoulders to carry a lagging offense. Since the highly paid millionaires couldn’t produce big hits, the emphasis fell on the young man’s shoulders. Taveras went 6-36 in June. When he came back up in July he was 14-63. In August, he was 22-90. In September, he improved and collected 13 hits in 44 at bats. Put it all together and here is what you have from the first regular season from Taveras.
In 234 at bats, Taveras hit .239 with 3 HR and 22 RBI. He struck out 37 times and walked 12. He slugged .312 and collected 8 doubles.
However, he did produce in certain areas. Small sample size but in 54 at bats, he hit .333 with runners in scoring position. With runners in scoring position and 2 outs, he hit .381. In 18 pinch hitting appearances, he collected 7 hits. Small and easy to pass up but worth remembering when it comes to the playoffs and close games.
Taveras’ defense isn’t special but decent. He isn’t terrible, has an average arm and can play right field adequately. He won’t make any sparkling catches and looks a little unorthodox out there. He gets the job done.
Here is my point. Don’t give up on Oscar. He is a young player with a big upside. I hate hearing that he lacks the desire or wants to do things right. How can that be judged after 234 at bats and part time starting? Every time I see the kid, he is hustling and adapting to a tough game. People take prerequisites into player evaluations too often. Oscar is trying to be good and questioning his effort is futile.
He can be a lethal weapon if used right this October. He should start against righthanded pitchers without question. He takes good at bats. He doesn’t swing at everything and strike out. His average on batted balls put in play is .272, which means his luck is not that good. I know line drives aren’t hits but Oscar had to lead the team in line drive outs. He isn’t getting a piece of the ball when he hits it. He can smash it. Eventually, the law of averages will kick in and those liners will drop in.
Mike Matheny can’t disregard the use of Taveras and fall in love with Grichuk’s occasional power this week. Each player can help this team. Since they became a platoon in right field in September, the position has produced, unlike April through August. Get used to the young blood.
Oscar also isn’t going anywhere after the season. If he was to be traded, it would have happened this summer. Once again, he is 22 years old. He is a part of this team’s future. When luck bounces back in his direction, he will be a starting outfielder on this team. It’s not easy to look at a player’s stats and see potential, but I see it with Taveras. The kid’s bat catches too much of the baseball for him to be a bust.
Also, remember the golden rule people. You don’t judge a hitter in baseball until they get at least 500 at bats. More like 1,000 but in this day and age of impatience, I can cut that in half. 2015 will be the season Oscar makes you a believer.
Until then, he can still make a dent in the playoffs. He is a player I want to see utilized in October. Teams underestimate him and so does his own manager. I hope that can change.
There are many crowds when it comes to Taveras.
The Oscar Lovers. The Oscar Haters. The Oscar Critics. The Oscar Wait and See Bunch.
I belong to the wait and see group. I admire the kid and his potential, and I can’t bring myself to look past his ability. I laugh at the people who defend every single bad word said about him, but I also try to be realistic and patient.
October is a time where unlikely heroes come to the forefront. Hitters who are just waiting for the opportunity. Oscar could be one of those players this year. All it takes is one big fly for Oscar this month and Cardinal fans will drench him in applause. It’s that easy in the playoffs. Do something great and people will never forget. Do something horrible and it will live on your shoulder. Where will Oscar fall this month?
Thanks for reading and Go Cards!
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