Rated the No. 3 prospect in baseball by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and MLB.com this winter, Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras made his presence felt immediately in his major league debut on Saturday, homering in his second major league at-bat to provide the game-winning run in the fifth inning of the Cardinals' 2-0 win over San Francisco. Widely considered the top hitting prospect in all of baseball, Taveras was called up to fill the hole in the lineup created when first baseman Matt Adams was forced to the disabled list with a calf injury. Adams has been one of the Cardinals' most productive hitters thus far this year. Incumbent right fielder Allen Craig will shift back to first base to accommodate Taveras' arrival.
The question now becomes how St. Louis will fit everyone into the lineup once Adams returns. The most likely scenario in the short term is that the Cardinals will see if Taveras, who will turn 22 on June 19, can handle center field on a full-time basis. With Adams only viable at first base and Matt Holliday occupying left field, that would leave right field as the formerly versatile Craig's only option, thus pushing Taveras to center, a position that has been primarily manned by Peter Bourjos and Jon Jay this year.
Taveras played center field more than any other position during his time in the minor leagues, but he had played just 17 games there in 2014, compared to 28 games at the corners. He is not considered a viable option to remain at center in the major leagues over the long-term, and the Cardinals' alternatives are limited, with Holliday and Craig signed through 2017 and Adams under team control through 2018.
Still, Taveras is a player worth trying to shoehorn into a lineup. He hit .325/.373/.524 with seven home runs and 40 RBI in 49 games for Triple-A Memphis this season prior to his promotion, and his career minor league slash stats are nearly identical to that line. In fact, Taveras' arrival this weekend less than three weeks shy of his 22nd birthday is one that many expected would have happened last year if not for what was effectively a season-ending right ankle injury Taveras suffered sliding into second base in late June.
Given his pedigree, Taveras seems to be here to stay, though the timing of his debut -- just a few weeks before the Super Two cutoff -- and the Cardinals' position crunch leave open the possibility that Taveras could be demoted after Adams returns in order to try to suppress his service time and negate his Super-Two arbitration eligibility. After all, this is a player who projects to be one of the best hitters in the major leagues. Giving a player like that an extra year of arbitration could be extremely costly for St. Louis. Then again, the Cardinals are a contending team trying to dig out of an early hole and catch the upstart Brewers in the National League Central, a goal Taveras seems very capable of helping them accomplish.
As St. Louis general manager John Mozeliak said when discussing the team's pending position crunch on Friday, "performance plays ... that's what is going to drive what it looks like two weeks from now or three weeks from now." It's very early, but Taveras' performance is already playing.