In 2011, I met Azru in Davenport for some Quad Cities River Bandits baseball. Kolten Wong, Trevor Rosenthal, and Oscar Taveras made that incarnation of the Cardinals' Low-A affiliate an enticing draw. After taking in a weekend series, I departed Davenport most impressed with Rosenthal. But Taveras left the most enduring memories.
That year, Taveras was a skinny kid tearing up the Midwest League. At 19 years old, Taveras had injuries limit his playing time. Despite the health problems, his 78 games played and 347 plate appearances were both career highs to that point. Taveras posted a .386/.444/.584 batting line that was enough to turn heads (and he ultimately surged into some top 100 prospect lists entering 2012).
Memory is a curious thing. I don't remember Taveras's swing being particularly violent. But it is. I don't remember Taveras demanding our attention with his play. He didn't. Taveras grabbed our notice more with how he went about his business.
On one occasion, Taveras took a rather long time to find his glove and take the field for the top of the next inning. The home dugout was on the third-base side of the field and Taveras was in center. The right fielder stood in the outfield waiting for Taveras, looking back into the dugout to see when (if?) his center fielder would be joining him in the field. The visitors' half of the inning started without either player taking a warmup toss.
At one point, Taveras tracked down a fly ball and dove to catch it. Taveras didn't land hard per se, but the aftermath of his effort was enough to cause concern. Taveras threw his glove in apparent agony. He seemed injured. Not hurt, mind you, but injured. The coaches and trainer ran out to him in the outfield. But, after some time, it turned out Taveras was fine. He stayed in the game.
The next day, we sat behind the River Bandit charged with charting pitches and struck up a conversation. This player, who shall remain nameless, shared with us that Taveras has a flair for the dramatic. (Matthew Leach would later describe this trait as "brio.") As the River Bandit told it, such histrionics as the ones we witnessed were nothing new when it came to Taveras and his teammates weren't all that fond of his antics.
And so, when I read that the Cardinals were frustrated with Taveras because he was still favoring his foot well into major-league camp this spring, I thought back to the Quad Cities. When Taveras came up lame with a hamstring issue later on in camp, 2011 came to mind. I had these thoughts and, after each one, reminded myself that I wouldn't want folks judging me based on what I did when I was 19—even when I was just 22 years old.
The Taveras we saw in Davenport nearly three years ago is not the player the Cardinals just optioned to minor-league camp. Today, Taveras seems almost the older brother of his Low-A self, bigger and more developed. My hope is that more than Taveras's body has matured.