The day has finally arrived. Oscar Taveras is going to make his major league debut. For that to become a reality, first an injury to one of the St. Louis Cardinals corner infielders or first basemen had to occur.
Among the three applicable regulars – Matt Holliday, Allen Craig and Matt Adams – it was the latter to go down first. With the first baseman placed on the 15-day disabled list due to a calf injury, Taveras was promoted from Triple-A Memphis.
Though there were legitimate questions about the Super Two factor – keeping Taveras in the minors long enough to avoid arbitration status in two years – only now are regular at-bats for Taveras clearly available.
Beyond the immediacy of Adams’ injury, the Cardinals will play seven games in American League parks starting next week. The use of the designated hitter will open up additional plate appearances that the left-handed hitting Taveras could soak up.
Though Taveras is only 21 years of age, he could have been in the majors 12 months ago. While it is unlikely he would have stuck, some of the inevitable growing pains would have been experienced then, not now.
Instead, a May 2013 ankle injury went from bad to worse. Surgery was eventually required, followed by whispers that Taveras was not fully committed to his return to action – as if he wanted to stay in Triple-A.
A strong 2014 spring by Stephen Piscotty in major league camp actually had some observers suggesting that Taveras had fallen behind Piscotty when a call up was needed. All Taveras had to do to stop that talk was to prove his health.
Early in the 2014 season, Taveras played sparingly in center field. It could have been to ease stress on his ankle, or it could have been that Randal Grichuk and others were seen as a higher priority to get reps at the position. Whatever the reason, Taveras has now played the same number of games in center (16) as in left (16). Oscar also started seven games in right and seven more as the Redbirds’ designated hitter. How he will be used defensively in St. Louis remains to be seen.
Offensively, Taveras was a constant in Memphis, where he was only written into one spot in 46 of manager Pop Warner’s lineups – third. The left-handed hitter has been red-hot in recent days, batting .462 (18-for-39) with a home run and nine RBI over his last 10 games. On the season, Taveras has a line of .325/.373/.524 to go with seven long balls and 40 runs driven in.
The main problem I see is that the delay of Taveras’ arrival – coupled with the uninspiring start to the 2014 season by the Cardinals team overall – has created an environment in which too many seem to be expecting too much too soon from the young man.
Some seem to believe that Taveras will spur a Yasiel Puig-like revival in St. Louis, driving a turnaround of the team’s fortunes – but without the rough edges of the Cuban, of course.
More than a few of the overheated were actually hoping that Taveras would be assigned uniform number 5 – as if there wasn’t already an excessive level of pressure being placed on him. Many of these same “fans” will label Taveras an overrated bum if he goes 0-for-4 in his first game.
I realize that nothing I say will change the unrealistic views of these extremists. One can only hope that Taveras is able to tune out the noise and play credible baseball for St. Louis while Adams is out. In the near term, reasonable observers should not expect any more.