St. Louis Cardinals 2024 Top 30 Prospects List: #30-21

Pete Hansen - Shriners Children's College Classic
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22. RHR Leonardo Taveras (2023 level: High-A)

Leonardo Taveras is a 25-year-old reliever-only prospect who last pitched in High-A and was suspended 80 games to end his 2023 season. How in the world is he the 22nd-best prospect in the Cardinals system? Those are all fair concerns, and I have no problem with anyone who excludes him from their top 30 or even top 50 for that matter, but I have a hard time doing that based on his performance last year.

Taveras has a deadly two-pitch mix, both of which grade out as plus, and surprisingly, he commanded the ball well in 2023. The performance-enhancing drugs certainly could have aided him in commanding the zone at the best rate of his career, but I think it would be unfair to speculate how much it helped him. The Cardinals signed Taveras all the way back in 2016 out of the Dominican Republic, and he has had many ups and downs throughout his professional career. However, a couple of things have been constant throughout that (until 2023).

Taveras has always struggled to control the strike zone. Taveras had a 19.2% BB% in his first 5 years in the Cardinals organization. The lowest BB% he posted at a level (8 or more IP) was 14.8%. He has also always had high-octane stuff, and his K% hovered around 30% in his first 5 seasons despite having virtually no control. The improvements in command and control took Taveras to a different level in 2023. Taveras had a 5.56 ERA in his first 5 years, bringing that down to 3.10 in his breakout season. His 19.2% career BB% would be down to under 10% in 2023 to a respectable 9.5%.

Among minor leaguers with 20+ innings pitched in 2023, Taveras ranked 4th best with a 35.7% K-BB% and 45.2% K% out of over 3000 qualifiers. As previously mentioned, he has a deadly two-pitch mix: a high-ride heater and a gyro slider. Firstly, he throws a 95-97 mph fastball (up to 100 mph) with over 18 inches of induced vertical break and less than 5 inches of run from an over-the-top 6.7-foot vertical release. He tends to throw the pitch up, where he induces whiffs at an exceptionally high rate.

His 2nd pitch is a devasting mid-to-high 80s gyro slider with sharp downward break. Hitters have a hard time distinguishing his fastball from his slider. They often flail trying to hit the pitch. Due to his high vertical release, Taveras creates a steep vertical approach angle on the pitch, making it devasting for hitters to go against. Taveras shows an advanced feel for the offering and uses it effectively against both righties and lefties. Despite being a two-pitch pitcher, I don't anticipate Taveras to face any platoon problems. If the command from 2023 sticks, I have no doubt in my mind we're looking at a future big-league reliever.