Cardinals' Oscar Taveras Piles Up Hits In Quad Cities

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Defensively, Quad Cities right fielder Oscar Taveras is raw. He needs to improve his routes to the ball. He does have above-average arm strength, but he needs to speed up his release and improve his accuracy. On the basepaths, Taveras doesn't get the best jumps, and his foot speed is average at best.

But if you watch the Cardinals prospect play a game, very little of that sticks in your memory, because when he steps to the plate the 19-year-old sure can hit.

The River Bandits outfielder has seen his season disrupted by a nagging quad injury that has sidelined him for two separate disabled list trips that lasted nearly two months. But whenever he's gotten off the disabled list, he's shown no rust at the plate. It's little surprise when you see him swing the bat.

When Quad Cities manager Johnny Rodriguez first saw him, he thought back to seeing Tony Oliva hit in the 1970s, or watching a young Don Mattingly or Tony Gwynn in the 1980s. Rodriguez is quick to explain that he's not saying he believes that Taveras is another Gwynn, but he sees a lot of similarities in their swing.

Like Gwynn, Taveras is very quick and direct in getting the bat to the strike zone. Like Gwynn, he has excellent hand-eye coordination and an ability to center the ball on the bat. And like Gwynn, Taveras has the ability to foul off good pitches deep in the zone in two-strike situations until he finds a better pitch to hit.

"He has one of the finest strokes you see," Rodriguez said. "His eye-bat coordination is one of the best I've ever seen in a young hitter. It's the way he manipulates his hands to the sweet spot. When he swings at a pitch out or in the zone, he seems to always get (the ball) to the sweet spot. He's very direct to the ball. It's a very flat bat head through the zone.

"He doesn't really have a cold zone. If you throw him inside up, he'll catch up to it. If you try to catch him down and outside, he'll do the same thing."

The numbers back that up. Taveras is hitting .383/.424/.552 in 154 at-bats. He has as many three- and four-hit games (seven) as games where he's gone hitless this year (seven as well). That comes a year after he hit .322/.362/.526 for
Rookie-level Johnson City of the Appalachian League.

"The only area he isn't raw right now is in hitting: He won't take walks. In time he'll learn, because he does see pitches early in the count. But right now, he doesn't walk," Rodriguez said. "The pitch recognition is there. He's got the package to be an outstanding big league hitter. He's the best hitter I've seen below Double-A in a long time."

At the plate, Taveras uses a leg kick as a timing mechanism, along with a little bat waggle that briefly points toward the pitcher, a la Gary Sheffield. The Cardinals are working with him on toning down the kick, so that he can be in a more balanced hitting position, and he already has toned down the kick in two-strike counts. He is a gap-to-gap hitter who likes to attack the power alleys. Lefthanded pitchers haven't been a problem for the lefty-swinging Taveras—he's hitting .432/.490/.682 against them.

Taveras has a long ways to go to reach the big leagues, and as has been explained above, there are many aspects of the game that he has to refine. But if his manager is correct, then Taveras' hit tool should carry him a long way.