Continuing from our season preview of the Cardinals earlier today…
When will the Oscar Taveras era begin in St Louis?
Tavares is one of the top three prospects in baseball, and potential makes scouts and and fans alike drool. Taveras won't be called up to the majors until he can get regular playing time, and with St Louis' three outfield spots locked down in 2013, it'll take an injury or some depleted play for Taveras to get the call in 2013.
At the very least, Taveras will earn a spot in the majors in 2014 after Carlos Beltran's contract expires following this season. But after a 2012 in which Taveras hit .321/.380/.572 with 23 homers and just a 10.5% walk rate, the calls for Taveras to get the call to the majors are growing. He's major league ready right now, but that glut of productive outfielders in the majors gives the Cardinals no reason to start his arbitration clock a year early, and they'll let him refine his game in AAA for a season.
But just because Taveras won't start the season in the majors doesn't mean that he won't end up there sometime this season. Carlos Beltran was notoriously injury-prone during 2009 and 2010 with the Mets, but has logged full seasons over the past two seasons. and also put together eight straight 600 plate appearance seasons before running into knee problems into 2009. He'll be 36 in April, and there's still the thought that he could break down, despite two straight productive seasons.
It's not even worth it to imagine Holliday missing any time or being unproductive for the Cardinals after six straight five win seasons and eight straingt 500 plate appearance seasons, but it could be worth it to focus on center fielder Jon Jay. Jay is a guy who thrives on a high BABIP, with a .348 career mark and no real strong secondary skills aside from that high batting average. Over a full season of games in the majors, ZiPS projects Taveras to hit .279/.334/.457 in 2013. If Jay's BABIP falls to the league average of .300, what is he really? ZiPS projects Jay to have a .323 BABIP and a triple slash of .282/.344/.397. That's a pretty similar line to Taveras, minus the power.
Essentially what it comes down to is this: if Jay's BABIP stays through the roof, the Cardinals will likely be content with their outfield of Holliday/Jay/Beltran in 2013, assuming all three stay healthy. However, if Taveras starts punishing the ball in AAA and Jay gets off to a slow start with a normalized (or lower) BABIP, the calls for Taveras will likely begin to grow louder and louder, and St Louis GM John Mozeliak might not be able to ignore them for long.