The tragic story of St. Louis Cardinals prospect Oscar Taveras

JUPITER, FL - FEBRUARY 24: Oscar Taveras #77 of the St. Louis Cardinals poses for a portrait during photo day at Roger Dean Stadium on February 24, 2014 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
JUPITER, FL - FEBRUARY 24: Oscar Taveras #77 of the St. Louis Cardinals poses for a portrait during photo day at Roger Dean Stadium on February 24, 2014 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

Let’s remember a former St. Louis Cardinals minor league standout who had his career – and life – tragically cut short.

The St. Louis Cardinals made one of their best international signings ever in the summer of 2008, inking 16-year-old outfielder Oscar Taveras to a free agent contract.  Once his professional career began, all Taveras did was live up to the hype and build up the expectations the team and fans placed upon him.

There was a brief adjustment period, as Taveras spent the 2009 season getting acclimated to the pros in his home country as a player in the Dominican Summer League, batting just .257/.338/.392 with a single home run over 272 plate appearances, though his 28:36 walk-to-strikeout ratio demonstrated strong pitch-recognition ability.

Things started clicking the following season, with Taveras never again batting below .303 or slugging lower than .471 during any future minor league campaign.  His home run prowess topped out at 23 long balls in Double-A in 2012, though prognosticators expected many more hits to clear the fences as he continued to build strength and his body filled out.

With Taveras continuing to pound the ball in 2013, a big-league call-up seemed imminent for the top-3 rated prospect.  However, a high ankle sprain in May of that year eventually led to season-ending surgery.  After recovering from that procedure, Taveras went back to terrorizing Triple-A pitchers in 2014, batting .318/.370/.502 in 262 PA before finally getting the call to the majors.

Though he played all over the outfield in the minors, St. Louis ensconced him almost exclusively in right field, with just three big league games in center.  While his 63 games in the field didn’t yield great results, Taveras was in the majors primarily for his bat.

His Cardinals debut included his first home run.  However, given the lofty expectations, Taveras’ overall .239/.278/.312 triple-slash with just three homers and eight doubles over 248 PA, yielding a 66 OPS+, wasn’t particularly impressive.  But considering he was just 22 years old, that half season of exposure to baseball’s best pitchers was expected to serve Taveras well in preparation for a bigger role in 2015.  Alas, that opportunity never came.

Following the Cardinals’ elimination from the playoffs, just two weeks after he hit a game-tying, pinch-hit home run to NLCS Game 2, Taveras was back home in the Dominican Republic driving his 2014 Camaro with his girlfriend, 18-year-old Edilia Arvelo, beside him. The car went off the road and hit a tree, killing both Taveras and Arvelo. Press releases stated that Taveras’ blood alcohol content was well above the legal limit in the DR, and that the road was wet from recent rains.

The loss of two lives certainly is the most significant and devastating part of this story.  Additionally, the Cardinals franchise, its supporters, and baseball fans everywhere lost the opportunity to see how Taveras’ career might develop.

Would he have fulfilled his promise, making multiple All-Star teams, receiving MVP votes throughout a long career and helping lead St. Louis to the postseason repeatedly?  Would he have stumbled, unable to make the adjustments required at the highest level?  Or would Taveras have settled in somewhere in between as a solid contributor?

Sadly, we’ll never know. Baseball history is filled with tragedies, both on and off the field, and Taveras’ wasn’t the last. But for a number of fans, his will be remembered for a very long time.

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