Yesterday when I was leaving the Hyatt, I walked past a rather athletic looking young guy walking with a fairly attractive girl. Neither of the two spoke much English in what seemed to be a back-and-forth exchange of some sort, and they stood out among the remaining packs of Cardinal garbed fans. It took a few seconds to realize that I’d just walked past the most discussed Cardinal prospect since Rick Ankiel, and in just that quick few seconds, as I turned to look back to confirm what I had just realized, Oscar Taveras and mate were gone already.
Thus is the nature of the coming of the ‘Next Big Thing’ to St. Louis. And while this weekend is about getting a chance for fans to be able to put eyes on a property that has truly been more myth than man, the questions and rumblings about when will his prodigious talent make a way into a Cardinal uniform still is a very hazy proposition.
One thing that is for certain is that it is not, and never has been, a question of talent. Although an ankle injury basically cut his season in half and kept him out of winter ball for the first time in his brief career, the body of work that was there is proof positive enough that the hype is based in reality. He hit .310 in 47 games last summer in Memphis, with 17 extra base hits, all while playing through a persistent pain. This came on the heels of a spring where he predictably proved his bat could play with the big league club as well, even if his glove left some things to the imagination.
“He’s just an amazing talent”, expounds Mozeliak when approaching Taveras’ impact. “Clearly he lost a lot of at-bats last year, so when you think of things in an aggregate sense of experience and exposure, yes he missed time but there is no way to replicate that.”
Injuries are a part of the game, and the delay created by them alters even the best laid plans. And due to that element, the plans and discussion around Taveras at this point in the year are largely the same as a year ago at this point. The path through the spring is clear; he will get plenty of opportunities to showcase his talent and will likely be a regular part of the Cardinal lineup throughout the duration of Spring Training. There is still the matter of finding out what his positional potential is in the outfield (whether centerfield is a possibility or not is still a matter that Mozeliak is not completely clear on), as well as rounding off the rough edges at the plate. Basically, the same questions that the fanbase wonders, the inner workings of the club share along with them.
This adds to the intrigue of Taveras, and just exactly what his fit is in the near future. Much like last season, there is no clear and immediate need for him on the Cardinals stack deck of outfield options. And at the same time, he is clearly a talent that is unmatched in ceiling and has risen consistently to the challenge of every level he has competed thus far. He is ready, but the club is willing to see how it all plays out, which adds the enigmatic nature of his image to the masses.
Patience is tough when it comes to such an exciting property, but it is the course that Mozeliak is preaching in regards to the club’s 2011 Organizational Player of the Year. The depth of the team plays as much of a factor in the handling of his progress as it ever did, and the team is content to go the cautious route with its prized quantity. The 2014 Cardinal roster may be the deepest offering it has put forth in year, which makes it a time crunch for nearly the entire roster. It is crowded at the top, and the positive development of earlier prospects will, understandably, impact those to come.
“The fact that we have a Matt Adams or an Allen Craig gives us flexibility, and that’s a good thing,” Mozeliak comments on viewpoint of the 25-man roster. “Looking at the DNA of the club and how it is composed, and can we use him in a functional manner. And it is tough to answer that in January.”
The time is nigh for the mystery to come clear, but patience should breed measured expectations. He is the type of dynamic talent, which can force the issue for a roster spot by the end of March, in the fashion that Adams did a year ago. However, the timing will be right whenever the move is made. “It has to be about what’s best for him”, Mozeliak waxes on the expectations of Taveras in an immediate sense. “At his age and where he is at, development is critical.”