JUPITER, Fla. – Jon Jay has a message for the folks already anointing Cardinals prospect Oscar Taveras as the next Mike Trout or Bryce Harper.
“Let the kid play,” Jay said Monday. “That’s my biggest thing. Let the kid play and whatever comes of it, comes. He definitely does have a great talent and you can see that, but I hate when they try to label someone as the next this or the next that. Every player is their own unique person.”
Ranked by both Baseball America and MLB.com as the No. 3 ranked prospect in baseball entering the 2013 season, the 20-year-old Taveras has had all eyes on him the first weeks of camp. And he hasn’t looked out of place.
Taveras entered as a defensive replacement in the Cardinals spring training opener on Saturday and lined a ball to the warning track to just miss a two-run double. He earned the start in left field on Sunday and one-hopped a ball over the wall for a ground rule double.
“He’s putting together some good at-bats,” said manager Mike Matheny. “He just needs keep to doing the little things and playing the game hard and playing it right.
“I’ve been impressed with how he’s gone about his work. He’s really just put his head down and been very open and has worked hard with the veteran players. He’s had a lot of things brought to his attention and he’s been a very good student so far.”
Taveras has hit at every level he’s played at. He hit a ridiculous .386 in 78 games in Low-A Quad Cities in 2011 before skipping High-A and going straight to Double-A Springfield last season. And he kept on hitting there, posting a .321 batting average with 23 home runs, 37 doubles, seven triples and 94 RBI in 124 games.
He’s seen by most as sure thing, can’t miss prospect. His name appears in the same sentences and conversations as Trout and Harper. And for those that have worked with him, the hype is justified.
“I’ve seen what everybody is talking about,” Jay said. “The guy is an incredible talent and now he just has to continue to develop it. I’m just trying to show him little things that are going to help him out that I’ve learned at this level.
“He’s just a kid. He’s learning everything. He’s been great, he’s been working hard everyday and I think it’s going to pay off for him.”
Jay has developed into a mentor for Taveras this spring, pulling him aside during drills on the field or working with him in the batting cage. The two have had several conversations about all aspects of the game.
“A lot of the mental side of the game, the little things you don’t see,” Jay said. “Hitting the cutoff man, knowing the base runners, knowing when to play deep or shallow, just little things like how to approach certain pitchers. Just little tips I can give him.
“The first thing I told him was, ‘hey, we’re not reinventing the game, you know how to play the game, I’m just going to help you with those areas you may not know about that will come to play at the big league level’ and he’s been great. He’s been working hard. He’s been awesome.”
Said Taveras of their conversations, “I’ve worked a lot with Jon Jay in the cage and on my defense every morning. He has really helped me and told me to keep it up and continue to play hard. I’m very excited to work with him.”
Taveras has also spent time working with Carlos Beltran and others this spring with those in the big league clubhouse realizing that it won’t be long until he’s helping them out in St. Louis.
“I’m really happy and excited to be here with the guys,” said Taveras, who continues to improve with his English. “I’m working hard on my defense. I worked in the cage a lot of my swing. Hopefully I will stay with the team this year, maybe not. Maybe I will start in Memphis.”
Baring injury it appears likely that Taveras will start the year at Triple-A Memphis. And the Cardinals hope that’s the case. He’ll get everyday playing time and can continue to develop until he’s needed in St. Louis.
Asked if Taveras would play in the big leagues at some point this season, Matheny said, “It’s way too early to make a statement like that. We just watch and see how everybody develops and see how things play out.”
Said Jay, “We can’t control that stuff, as we all know. He can definitely play. He’s going to continue to get better. You hate to label kids, especially young kids like that but everyone loves to do it. He’s going about things the right way.”
There’s little doubt that Taveras will be in St. Louis at some point in the near future. And with the experiencing this spring, it appears he’ll be even better prepared.