Oscar Taveras: A very simplified guide to using a top prospect, part two

Dilip Vishwanat

Barring injury, Oscar Taveras should start in 90-95% of the team's remaining games, including stretches where he plays 5+ games in a row.

Back on May 16th of this year, I wrote a piece with an almost identical title when the Cardinals recalled Kolten Wong, after putting him through some minor league adversity. The main premise behind that piece was to point out just how poorly Mike Matheny had been utilizing one of his top prospects and just how easy it actually was to use him correctly. For the most part, Matheny gave Wong a considerable amount of playing time after being recalled. In 66 plate appearances prior to injuring his shoulder, Wong hit .310/.385/.431 with five stolen bases. Was this an example of small sample size success? Maybe so, but the components of this slash line were much closer to his minor league career averages, and it came when he was in the starting lineup on a regular basis.

Well, on June 30th, it was announced that the Cardinals were set to recall Oscar Taveras, the organization's clear top prospect, so that he would be available for the start of the team's series with the San Francisco Giants on July 1st. Matheny penciled Taveras into the starting lineup four games in a row, and sure enough, Oscar barrelled quite a few baseballs. As with before his demotion, though, not many of them were fell in, but as a fan, it was refreshing to see loud outs being recorded in the outfield over harmless grounders to the left side of the infield.

However, apparently four straight games for Taveras was a good enough start for Mr. Matheny, especially with a tough lefty on the mound. Wait, this guy on the Marlins was a tough lefty, correct? Prior to yesterday's game, the 23-year-old Andrew Heaney had faced just 24 left-handed hitters in his major league career, so any conclusions drawn as to whether he is tough on lefties or not is statistically invalid. Giving Matt Adams the day off is one thing, considering he is a career .194 hitter against lefties and is still having some trouble with breaking balls down and away. But Taveras as well, with Jon Jay starting in his place? Absolutely not.

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know my stance on Jay by now. I am one of his biggest fans, and this will likely be the case until his playing career is over, regardless of what team he ends up on in the future. However, the threat of Oscar's bat dwarfs the threat of Jay's, especially in right field. Despite a rough road trip, Jay has been one of the team's most consistent hitters, all the while enjoying a small sample size-enhanced .372 split against lefties this season (43 PAs). Thus, if Mike puts weight into this split and he feels like he really needs to get Jay's bat in the lineup, put him in center, even with a fly ball pitcher like Shelby Miller on the mound, but do not put him in the lineup at the expense of Taveras.

Taveras has proven he can consistently hit both righties and lefties at every level of the minor leagues. In fact, according to Minor League Central, Taveras is a .307/.363/.476 hitter in 406 minor league PAs against lefties. Taveras has one thing left to prove at the plate: his ability to hit major league pitching. However, one cannot do that in merely 55 PAs. Thus, put Taveras in the starting lineup. I really don't care if a lefty, righty, or ambidextrous human being is on the mound. Taveras needs big league hitting experience, and the only way he can get that is by playing nearly every day.

If consistent playing time for Taveras leads to an Allen Craig/Matt Adams full platoon at first base, so be it. Contracts and past performance aside, this just may be what is best for the team at the moment. Despite Craig's two-run home run yesterday, his swing and approach has looked pretty lifeless lately. If Taveras finds playing time elsewhere, like spelling the 34-year-old Holliday once a week (Matt won't like this, but at his age, he needs it) or getting a few starts in center with a ground ball pitcher on the mound, that's fine, too. The main point stands: Now that Oscar is back up, he should be in the starting lineup almost every single day. Oscar's standard statistics, as they currently sit, are not at all indicative of future performance. It is time to see what the kid can do.

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