Cardinals' Oscar Taveras Trying To Broaden His Game




Follow me on Twitter

Outfielder Oscar Taveras won the Midwest League batting title as a 19-year-old last year. He gave .400 a good run, eventually falling short with a still impressive .386 batting average.

So when he came to spring training this year, the Cardinals had a simple message: We know you can hit. Now show us that you can handle the other aspects of the game as well.

And to soften the impact of the blunt message, the Cardinals added a little enticement. They told Taveras that whether he went to Double-A Springfield or high Class A Palm Beach would be determined by how well he played defensively and on the bases this spring.

One at-bat from the Arizona Fall League last October summed up Taveras' 2011 season. Taveras used his smooth lefty swing to line a single off of Aroldis Chapman—the hardest throwing lefthander in baseball. Once he reached first base, he was promptly picked off.

There's still too much spring training left to say anything definitively, but if Taveras keeps up the work he's done over the first month at camp, he can start looking for an apartment in Springfield.

"He's really worked hard. He's made a great impression. He's made big strides in the other aspects of his game," Cardinals farm director John Vuch said.

This spring, Taveras has been working on his jumps shagging balls during batting practice.

"The goal is for him to be an all-around player, not just a great hitter," Vuch added. "He should be no worse than an average outfielder and baserunner. We think he has ability to play center field potentially . . . He'll have to get good reads and get good jumps on the ball, as he's not going outrun mistakes. But there is no reason he can't do it. He's a smart baseball guy."

• Righthander Carlos Martinez has been working on a couple of tweaks this spring. Most importantly, the Cardinals have tweaked his takeaway to keep the ball in his glove longer. A former shortstop, Martinez's delivery last year still showed some signs of his infield roots. He brought the ball out of his glove quite early and gave hitters a good, long look at the ball.

The tweak seems to be providing the desired effect. Considering Martinez's fastball sits in the high 90s, shortening the time that a hitter gets to see it by even a few hundredths of a second will make an already nasty fastball even nastier.

• The Cardinals have managed to stack up their starting pitching prospects one after another. Shelby Miller, now one call away from the big leagues, will be 21 all season. Martinez, who likely will be in Double-A Springfield at some point this year, is 20. And Tyrell Jenkins, the team's next-best righthanded pitching prospect, is ready to head to low Class A Quad Cities as a 19-year-old.

Jenkins has yet to pitch above the Rookie-level Appalachian League, but he got a quick taste of big league spring training this year. Back in minor league camp, Jenkins has tweaked his delivery to bring it back to more of what the Cardinals saw when they drafted him in high school as a supplemental first-round pick back in 2010.

Last year Jenkins' arm angle became more straight over the top. The tweak added a tick more velocity to his 92-95 mph fastball, but it came at the cost of less movement. In the Cardinals' eyes, considering his already impressive velo, losing a mile an hour off his fastball for better movement is a fair trade.

• The Cardinals have had a pretty healthy spring training, although righthander Jordan Swagerty, the team's No. 10 prospect, is sidelined with bone spurs. Before spring training ends, Swagerty should have a decision on whether he'll miss a few weeks to rehab the injury, a few months to remove the bone spurs or a full season to remove the bone spurs and repair his elbow ligament.

• Swagerty's former Arizona State teammate Seth Blair, a supplemental first-round pick in 2010, had a lost 2011 season, going 6-3, 5.29 at low Class A Quad Cities which included a suspension for violating team rules. He's hoping to show he's found himself in 2012.

"This spring he came to us and told he didn't have the season he wanted to have last year. He's made adjustments to his lifestyle," Vuch said.

Blair's showing the 92-94 mph fastball, touching 96 mph, that he had at Arizona State. That's a significant improvement over the average to tick-below average fastball he showed last year. But maybe even more importantly he's more around the plate this spring according to Vuch.