- Full name Willy Taveras
- Born 12/25/1981 in Tenares, Dominican Republic
- Profile Ht.: 6'0" / Wt.: 180 / Bats: R / Throws: R
- Debut 09/06/2004
Organization Prospect Rankings
In a quest to find a quality defensive center fielder, Houston took Taveras in the 2003 major league Rule 5 draft, then sent Jeriome Robertson to Cleveland for his rights and slugger Luke Scott. Taveras led the Texas League in hitting and steals, while managers rated him the circuit's best baserunner, top defensive outfielder and most exciting player. Taveras' speed makes him a prolific and high-percentage basestealer, and gives him the range to catch nearly anything hit in the gaps. His quickness also enhances his hitting ability, as he makes good contact and can beat out all but the most routine grounders. He has above-average arm strength and even better accuracy with his throws. To maximize his leadoff ability, Taveras has to develop more patience at the plate. He'll never hit for power, but he needs to add strength to at least deter pitchers from pounding him inside. If it all comes together for Taveras, he could be a superior version of Juan Pierre. After he spends a year in Triple-A, the Astros would love to make him their center fielder in 2006.
The Astros lack center-field prospects and have been stretching it defensively at that position in the majors with Richard Hidalgo, Lance Berkman and Craig Biggio. With that in mind, they spent a major league Rule 5 pick on a center fielder for the second straight year. The Astros had to return Victor Hall to the Diamondbacks in 2003 but may be able to retain Taveras. If they can't keep him on their 25-man roster all year, they'll have to put him through waivers and offer him back to Indians for half the $50,000 draft price. Cleveland liked Taveras but had too many prospects to protect on its 40-man roster. Taveras is a potential leadoff hitter whose line-drive approach and control of the strike zone suit him well for the role. He has to get stronger to keep pitchers honest, but power never will be a big part of his game. Taveras' best tool is his speed, which made a huge impression on Carolina League managers in 2003. They rated him the fastest baserunner, best baserunner and best defensive outfielder in the league. Not only can he fly, but he also has basestealing aptitude, succeeding on 57 of his 69 attempts last year. Taveras can cover more ground than any outfielder in the organization, including the majors, and he has a solid arm. He really needs to be playing every day in Double-A at this stage of his career, so if Houston holds on to Taveras, it will come at the expense of stunting his development.
The Indians think highly enough of Taveras that they turned him loose in low Class A as a 19-year-old. A graduate of the club's increasingly productive program in the Dominican Republic, he has tremendous athleticism, game-changing speed and fearlessness on the bases. He has some pop for a center fielder, though he'll hit more for average than for power. He already steals bases at a high percentage, but he doesn't reach base as often as someone with his wheels should. Taveras is a free swinger who managed just a .317 on-base percentage last season. Offspeed pitches still baffle him at times. He must realize his job is to get on base however possible. Taveras covers a lot of ground in center field and has a plus arm. He could start 2002 back at Columbus or in high Class A.
A product of the Indians' Dominican program, Taveras emerged in 2000, though his .354 average in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League in 1999 should have been a tipoff that the potential was there. He was on nobody's radar screen at the start of last season, but that has changed dramatically. Taveras is a center fielder with speed, so the comparisons with Kenny Lofton already have started. He is a 6 or 7 runner on the 2-to-8 scouting scale, which makes him a dangerous basestealer and gives him fine range in center field, where his arm is also a plus tool. He has a good idea of how to hit, and the Indians envision him as a contact hitter who drives the ball to all fields. Taveras is still raw as a hitter, however, especially in the power department. He needs to work on going back on balls in the outfield. He's still learning how to read pitchers in order to maximize his threat as a basestealer. Like Corey Smith, Taveras will jump from Rookie-level Burlington to Columbus in 2001. He too could be ready for Cleveland by the end of 2003.
Minor League Top Prospects
Round Rock manager Jackie Moore understandably ranked Taveras as one of the best position players in the league, having witnessed first-hand the affect the speedster had on his club's opponents. Taveras terrorized TL foes with the best pure speed in the league (a 70 runner) and the ability to use it to get on base and steal once on the basepaths (55 steals in 66 attempts). Managers also liked how Taveras, acquired in the offseason from the Indians in the Rule 5 draft (the Astros subsequently traded lefthander Jeriome Robertson to Cleveland to retain Taveras' rights when they sent him to the minors), played defensively in center field. He glided between the two gaps, covering vast tracts of ground and keeping runners honest with an average, accurate arm. However, while Taveras hit .335, most were skeptical of his ability to hit for average at higher levels. He has little power (.386 slugging, 16 extra-base hits) and doesn't walk as much as he could to take advantage of his speed. "I usually like speed guys to run from the left side," one manager said. "Taveras is righthanded, and I could really see righthanders just pound him inside in the big leagues. He's more of a fourth outfielder for me because he doesn't drive the ball, kind of like a Dave Roberts type."
Taveras' game is based on speed. He's a basestealing threat every time he reaches, which is fairly often because he knows that's his role. He also covers lots of ground in center field. Managers named him the best baserunner, fastest baserunner and best defensive outfielder in the league at midseason. "His range in center field is off the charts," Massarelli said. "Every time we played them, they'd pull their corner outfielders literally to the foul lines. I never saw gaps between outfielders like that. But every time we'd put one into those gaps, Willy somehow ran it down. "From an opposing manager's standpoint it was frustrating as heck, but it was also a lot of fun to watch. " His biggest weakness is . . . weakness. Taveras packs just 160 pounds on his 6-foot frame, and he slugged just .350. When Kinston moved him to the No. 3 spot in the second half, his slugging percentage dipped to .283. He doesn't need to become a power hitter, but he'll have to show more punch to keep pitchers honest.
Best Tools List
- Rated Best Defensive Outfielder in the Houston Astros in 2005
- Rated Fastest Baserunner in the Houston Astros in 2005
- Rated Best Defensive Outfielder in the Texas League in 2004
- Rated Most Exciting Player in the Texas League in 2004
- Rated Best Baserunner in the Texas League in 2004
- Rated Best Defensive Outfielder in the Carolina League in 2003
- Rated Fastest Baserunner in the Carolina League in 2003
- Rated Best Baserunner in the Carolina League in 2003
- Rated Best Defensive Outfielder in the South Atlantic League in 2002