The previous post that I penned on the World Baseball Classic, and who is participating from the Cardinals, got me thinking about who might benefit from the regulars being out of camp for the duration of the tournament. Clearly, the biggest beneficiaries will be Tony Cruz and Oscar Taveras. While Yadi Molina and Carlos Beltran are busy representing Puerto Rico, Cruz and Taveras will presumably be busy soaking up valuable innings.
Tony Cruz should benefit greatly from being able to get additional work with the primary pitching staff rather than getting innings in split squad games with only a handful of the regular innings eaters. Even though Cruz is a backup catcher he is a perfect asset for the club because he plays solid defense at a bargain basement price which gives the club greater flexibility should a need arise to take on more salary at any point during the year. Last season he logged 293.1 innings behind the plate and only committed 2 errors. He allowed 18 steals and managed to throw out 8 would be base burglars. Catching aside, he has also demonstrated the ability to fill in at First base, Third Base, and in the Outfield. It’s very difficult to put a price tag on this type of versatility, and thankfully for the Cardinals they won’t have to worry about an inflated salary for quite a few more years.
Oscar Taveras is the name on everyone in baseball’s lips. He was recently ranked #3 in the top 100 prospects by mlb.com, and also #3 in the top 100 prospects by Baseball America. To say the kid has a future is an understatement. All around the organization he is lauded for how effortlessly he plays the game. Most call him the best hitting prospect to come through the organization since Albert Pujols. Those are some mighty large shoes to fill, but if all the reports are spot on it seems that Taveras may be up to the task. With Beltran participating in the WBC, Taveras should get a ton of innings, a lot of exposure to the major league lifestyle, and a very long look by the Coaching Staff so that they understand exactly what he brings to the table before he is inevitably sent back down to AAA Memphis to start the season. All of these things will go a long way towards his overall development as a player in the Cardinals system. Some of you may be wondering: Why would the Cardinals Front Office make the decision to send such a highly rated, highly talented player of his ilk back down to the minor leagues when all signs point to his ability to help St. Louis now? The answer is simple: Club Control. It’s a fine balancing act to pay the Wainwright, Molina, Holliday type long term deals and still have enough other talent on hand to compete for the ultimate goal of winning the World Series. Once Taveras comes up to the main roster his service clock will start running, and therefore the typical 6 years of relatively low salary will begin ticking away. I have a feeling, barring an unforeseen injury to a starting Outfielder on the parent club, we will not see Mr. Taveras in St. Louis until very late July, if at all, before September call ups. It should go without saying that the Cardinals Management is going to be very judicious in monitoring and squeezing every possible low cost year from this potentially highly valuable asset. How potentially valuable is Taveras? Here is his production line last year from AA Springfield as he went on to win the Texas League Player of the Year Award: .321 Batting Average, 23 HR, 94 RBI, 83 R, 10 SB, 7 Triples, 37 Doubles, 42 BB, and only 56 K in 477 AB.
Here’s hoping these young men make the most out of their opportunities to grow and develop as players while the more established veterans are off representing their countries in the WBC.