St. Louis Cardinals’ prospect, Oscar Taveras, was 22 when he went up to the plate in the bottom of the seventh against the San Francisco Giants in Game 2 of the 2014 National League Championship Series. With his team trailing by one, he was asked to get off the bench, grab a bat, and make something happen very late in the game.
Taveras had been considered not just the best prospect in the Cardinals’ organization, but for the last few seasons or so, it’s been understood throughout baseball that Taveras was a very special player and it was very common to see his name at the very top of the prospects list. Scouts marveled at his five-tool potential, athleticism, and bat speed. The last attribute, per Baseball America, is a product of Taveras growing up playing the game he loved by any means necessary:
Taveras has a preternatural gift for hitting, one honed by trying to hit the caps of water jugs spun fast to veer like a Frisbee and thousands of swings against a tire lashed to a fence.
Besides possessing natural, God-given gifts, Taveras also possessed a baseball skill not seen very much in today’s game: the ability to limit his strikeouts. In an era where strikeouts are not considered a flaw to a player’s game anymore, Taveras’ rookie season lived up to the promise he had displayed in the minors. Though his raw output and advanced statistics were mediocre for a player of his capability, the real treat in seeing Taveras play this season was seeing his plate discipline streamline to the majors. His Walk and Strikeout Rates were very similar to 2014 breakout players Charlie Blackmon and Josh Harrison.
Long known for being a “bad-ball hitter who doesn’t strike out often” (per Baseball America), Taveras’ would have finished in the top 40 among qualifying hitters in the Swing Percentage Outside the Strike Zone category. His Swinging Percentages are similar to former highly-touted prospect Jay Bruce and breakout player Jordy Mercer. As far as his reputation of being a “bad-ball hitter,” Taveras would have finished in second behind Victor Martinez in Contact Rate Outside the Strike Zone. In terms of overall Contact Rate, he would have finished in the top 15 among 146 qualified hitters. Taveras also finished the year with an identical Swinging Strike Percentage as breakout player Anthony Rendon.
It’s safe to say that based on the comparisons mentioned, the best was yet to come for the prodigious phenom. Taveras showed us a glimpse in his first game back on May 31, 2014. In his second plate appearance, Taveras hit his first major league home run in the fifth inning, a solo blast to right field, basically winning the game for the Cardinals, 2-0. All of the batting tools were on display in that home run: bat speed, hitting prowess, power, the violently beautiful, left-handed swing. Everything that scouts were saying about Taveras could be seen with one swing of that at-bat.
It was that same skill that was in desperate need in Game 2 of the NLCS. With the Cardinals down one run and already one out, Taveras was asked to pinch-hit for one-time fellow Cardinals’ prospect, flame-thrower Carlos Martinez. Facing Jean Machi in the seventh, Taveras took a 2-1 pitch and drove it to right field to tie the game at three runs a piece. It was Taveras’ biggest hit of his career.
In what proved to be an exciting game, the other Cardinals’ youngsters got in on the act, beginning with Matt Adams taking a 1-2 pitch off of fireballer Hunter Strickland in the eight, temporarily putting the Cards in the lead at 4-3. The Giants would quickly tie the game in the next frame, but leading off in the bottom of the ninth, Kolten Wong delivered a walk-off home run to win the game for St. Louis. Taveras, Wong, and Adams finished the 2012 season as mlb.com’s first, fourth, and sixth best Cardinals’ prospects, respectively. Things were looking up for St. Louis and their raw youngsters.
Oscar Taveras, Matt Adams, Kolten Wong with home runs. #Cardinals might continue their winning ways for the next 5+ years
— Felipe M (@pathological_h8) October 13, 2014
Alas, St. Louis would go on to lose the series but the promise and untapped potential of the Cardinals’ three young players had the team in high spirits. Unfortunately, all three will never realize how far they could carry the Cardinals in the future. Taveras will not be with his teammates come Spring Training of 2015. Taveras was driving in his native Dominican Republic, in his 2014, red Chevy Camaro with his girlfriend. It was raining pretty hard. It can only be assumed what had happened to Taveras’ car, but here are the results:
Así quedó el Camaro de Oscar Taveras. Here’s Taveras’ car after the crash pic.twitter.com/gb2822DtHO
— Dionisio Soldevila (@dSoldevila) October 27, 2014
Dionisio Soldevila also mentioned in a separate tweet that the Dominican Republic, per a recent study by the University of Michigan, had one of the 10 most dangerous driving roads in the world. It was these roads that the young player would traverse on the daily as Taveras was expected to play Winter Ball on the island this year. All of these factors could’ve played a role in Taveras’ sudden death; he was only 22. His girlfriend also died in the horrific crash; she was only 18.
Taveras leaves this world too soon and with too many questions of “what if…?” We will always be left wondering if he would ever live up to expectations; if he would have streamlined his marvelous athletic ability and baseball skills into major league success. Gone will be that gorgeous swing, the mature plate discipline, the fancy glove work, his dangerous outfield arm, and so many other unfulfilled promises and untapped potential. Oscar Taveras, a young soul who was solely put on this earth to play the game of baseball will not be displaying his talent for the rest of us to enjoy. An unfortunate tale of “what might have been” will forever be attached to Oscar Taveras’ name.