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Taveras rise to majors creates local interest

June 1st, 2014 5:07 pm by Douglas Fritz

Taveras rise to majors creates local interest

When Oscar Taveras arrived in the majors Saturday, it was of two-fold interest for area baseball fans.

First, it's nice to see a former Johnson City Cardinals' standout get a shot in Major League Baseball. Taveras was a terror in Johnson City back in 2010, batting .322 in 53 games with eight homers and 43 RBIs.

Second, Taveras reaching St. Louis means local Rotisserie Baseball owners should take quick notice.

Despite being slowed by an ankle injury that eventually required surgery last summer, the Dominican Republic native has been called “a gifted hitter, and has proven that at every level of the minor leagues” by mlb.com. He is aggressive, and drives balls to all fields.

Also, Taveras has a strong arm, but only average speed and is projected long term as a right fielder. He is baseball's No. 2 prospect, sandwiched between a pair of former Elizabethton Twins players: No. 1 Byron Buxton (OF) and No. 3 Miguel Sano, a third baseman ? although Taveras is really No. 1 at this time because Buxton recently re-injured his wrist, and Sano is out for all of 2014 because of Tommy John surgery.

Already Taveras has been dubbed the next Albert Pujols, which is obviously an unfair comparison but should immediately perk people's ears. Like Taveras, Pujols arrived in St. Louis at age 21. He began smoking the ball right out of the gate, hitting 37 homers with 130 RBIs in his rookie season while batting a robust .329.

Remember it was the steroid era, but Pujols would go on to post home run totals of 34, 43, 46, 41 and 49 over the next five seasons. His RBI numbers: 127, 124, 123, 117 and 137.

So it should be easy to see mentioning Taveras in the same breath as Pujols is quite wacky right now. How did such a thing get legs? It actually came from the Cardinals' front office, specifically general manager John Mozeliak, who told Fox Sports Midwest back in 2012: “(Taveras) is the most prolific hitter I've seen in this organization probably since Albert (Pujols).”

If a general manager is willing to make such a statement about a minor-leaguer, there is something special about the player. And when Taveras hit a towering home run in his second major-league at-bat to help the Cardinals defeat San Francisco, it only served to fan the flames of Taveras mania.

For all of the comparisons to Pujols, there is one giant difference. As Mozeliak pointed out earlier this year in a comment to MLB prospect expert Jim Callis, “(Pujols) kind of came out of nowhere. We didn't know he was going to have the career path he took. Taveras, I think, most of us have felt all along he's been on that path.”

Wait, that's more pressure on Taveras. How about this: Instead of Pujols, a more realistic comparison is Los Angeles Dodgers' star Yasiel Puig ? for several reasons. First, Taveras appears to have enough power to dramatically change a team's lineup. Puig hit 19 homers in 382 at-bats in 2013, and the Dodgers went from an afterthought to a serious sniff of the World Series.

Like Puig, Taveras, could also have a penchant for getting in the manager's doghouse. There are two things I remember about Taveras' days in Johnson City: He had a lot of talent, and hustling in the outfield wasn't at the top of his priority list.

Reports during his later minor-league days mentioned his lack of hustle as an issue (Scout.com), and a report even this season spoke of Taveras “coasting” while awaiting the call-up.

All of that talk can be brushed aside if Taveras comes up, plays hard, and starts putting up big numbers.

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