Why I’m a Bit of an Oscar Taveras Skeptic

The Cardinals are reportedly kicking the tires on David Price and Jon Lester, and presumably, they’ve probably at least inquired about Cole Hamels. It’s no secret that they’re looking for pitching, and they both the means and the motive to make a big move. And not surprisingly, trade rumors with the Cardinals inevitably invoke Oscar Taveras‘ name.

According to all the prospect guys, Taveras is the Cardinals best prospect, and one of the best prospects in the game. But while I’m not a prospect expert by any means, I will say that I hold some reservations about Taveras’ long-term value, as I think he fits the mold of the hitter that prospect analysts miss on the most often.

Taveras’ calling card is his bat. Yeah, he’s played some center field, but he’s probably a corner outfielder, and he’s not a Carl Crawford or Brett Gardner type who can have center fielder type value in a corner position. He’ll be good if he hits, and if he doesn’t, he won’t. What one thinks about Taveras essentially comes down to how good of a hitter you think he can be.

And while he was a monster in Double-A a couple of years ago, Taveras’ Triple-A line over the last year or so isn’t really all that exciting. Here’s what he’s done in Memphis between 2013 and 2014.

448 PA, 6.2% BB%, 11.8% K%, .172 ISO, .313/.358/.485, 117 wRC+

That’s not a bad performance for a guy who spent a good chunk of that time as a 21 year old, but he hasn’t exactly crushed Triple-A pitching either. The contact skills are there, but the power hasn’t shown up yet, and this skillset basically needs power to work. There are plenty of scouting reasons to think he’ll hit for power, and he’s done it before, so my skepticism isn’t that he definitely won’t hit for power; I’m just not sure that he will, and his Triple-A performance reminds me a lot of some other prospects who were supposed to hit for power and either didn’t or haven’t yet.

For instance, here’s Jesus Montero’s career Triple-A line.

1,410 PA, 8.8% BB%, 19.9% K%, .209 ISO, .290/.353/.499, 126 wRC+.

Taveras isn’t the cover-your-eyes defender that Montero is, so his floor is higher, but Montero is probably the most similar recent offensive prospect to be rated extremely highly despite some just okay Triple-A numbers that were explained away by his age. And this isn’t just cherry picking now that Montero has flopped and lost most of his value; I was a skeptic about his potential back when he was getting hyped to the moon as well.

And, really, if you’re interested, you can look back through the minor league leaderboards and look for guys who put up similar performances — based on low walks, high contact, moderate power, above average overall wRC+ — to what Taveras has done in Triple-A at young-ish ages.

In 2010, we find Montero, but also Mike Moustakas and Jose Tabata. Hank Conger was in that mix too, though he was drawing more walks.

In 2011, there’s Montero again — though his K% was going the wrong way — along with Dayan Viciedo, Lonnie Chisenhall, and another meh year from Moustakas.

In 2012, we find Josh Vitters and L.J. Hoes. Yeah.

In 2013, we get Wilmer Flores, Chris Owings, Nick Castellanos, and J.R. Murphy. You could try and squeeze Xander Bogaerts in there if you wanted, though he’s always been a lot more disciplined than Taveras.

This is hardly an exhaustive study, of course, but most of these guys came with some degree of prospect hype, and by and large, they’ve mostly not hit in the big leagues. That L.J. Hoes failed to develop doesn’t mean that Taveras is worthless, but that Taveras has hit kind of like L.J. Hoes at the highest level of the minors should perhaps make us pause when discussing him as a truly elite prospect.

Taveras is a very nice prospect, but I think there’s a case to be made that he’s the kind of minor leaguer that teams should be willing to trade, because the consensus about his potential has been outstripping his performance for a while now. Perhaps Taveras will get back to the hitter he’s been projected to be, and he’ll turn into a legitimate star. But if he doesn’t, he’s probably not a very good big leaguer, and projecting future offensive performance is the hardest thing for scouts to do. While he’s still very young and has plenty of time to improve, there’s a decent chance that Taveras will never have more value to the Cardinals than he does as a trade chip right now.





Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

124 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Craig Edwardsmember
7 years ago

Does wRC+ for minors numbers adjust for park? Comparing numbers from Las Vegas and Memphis doesn’t seem like a great comparison.

rebel.lion
7 years ago
Reply to  Craig Edwards

Also, ankle injuries were kind of a thing while Taveras was at Memphis…

FeslenR
7 years ago
Reply to  rebel.lion

Not just ankle injuries, Tavares’ entire minor league career has been dotted with injuries of all kinds.

Jdrury12
7 years ago
Reply to  FeslenR

Like what? The ankle was the major one pushing him back, and he hasn’t had any setback at the ML level.

AK7007
7 years ago
Reply to  rebel.lion

Also, explaining away poor performance to injury is just another “best shape of his life” variant. Not the best indicator of future performance improvement. It would be really nice to have hit f/x numbers on him to get an idea of how his contact is shaking out and say something more definitive, but all we have to rely on right now is scout projection.

Garth Vader
7 years ago
Reply to  Craig Edwards

Stat Corner has minor leage park/league adjustments in what they call wOBA+:

Taveras: 112 wOBA+

Montero:

Scranton ’10 – 111 wOBA+
Scranton ’11 – 112 wOBA+
Tacoma ’13: – 94 wOBA+
Tacoma ’14 – 116 wOBA+

lil_scooter93
7 years ago
Reply to  Craig Edwards

I was wondering this, too. According the the park factors I looked up, Las Vegas has the fifth highest park factor while Memphis is thirteenth.

Emcee Peepants
7 years ago
Reply to  Craig Edwards

The “+” in wRC+ indicates it is park and league adjusted. Standard wRC is not park and league adjusted.

Craig Edwardsmember
7 years ago
Reply to  Emcee Peepants

That’s what it means in the majors. I’m just curious if it is the same for the minors or if it is just league adjusted.

Garth Vader
7 years ago
Reply to  Craig Edwards

Minors is just league adjusted per Dave Appelman