Tabbed as a player entering a crucial season, Leody Taveras is seeing his stock increase as his impressive spring for the Texas Rangers continues.
Formerly the top prospect in the Texas Rangers system, Leody Taveras has struggled to have the breakout season many have expected. His talent suggests his ceiling is high, but his production at the plate has slowed his rise through the minors and despite being just 21, it feels like Taveras is entering a crucial season in his career. With many eyes looming though, Taveras has built on a positive 2019 campaign and is generating plenty of buzz this spring.
The question for Taveras has never been his defense which is considered elite by big league standards all ready. Plus speed, a top quality glove and an above average arm paired with strong instincts have him marked as one of the best defenders in the minors, a reputation he’s carried for a few seasons now. However, what separates him from being a defense first center fielder with moderate value, and an all around center fielder with near All-Star quality is his bat.
The switch-hitter has seen evaluations of his bat drop from average to below average as questions about his power continue to mount. In 2019, he started to push back on those concerns though posting the best offensive season of his career as he split time between High-A Down East and Double-A Frisco. His .279 average and .344 on-base percentages were both career-highs as was his .720 OPS. His profile doesn’t lend itself to ever generating regular home run power and with the value of his glove, it doesn’t need to. However, with his speed he should be able to rack up doubles, something he has struggled to do thus far. He could also look to limit his strikeouts which aren’t outrageous, but pushed nearly a K-per-game rate last season. In 2019, he struck out 122 times in 519 at-bats, a 23.5% rate, up from 18.4% in 2018.
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While improvements are there to be made based on his 2019 numbers, his bat was beginning to trend in the right direction and created an opportunity for him to generate plenty of buzz this spring. In January, Baseball Prospectus tabbed Taveras as the #37 prospect in baseball and #1 in the Texas Rangers system. Keith Law, who has maintained his bullishness on Taveras for awhile, marked him as the #37 prospect in all of baseball and #1 prospect in the Rangers organization in his rankings from late February ($). That was a diversion from the general idea that 2019 First Round Pick Josh Jung is the top prospect in the organization. To double-down on Taveras starting to regain his status as a top prospect, MLB Pipeline bumped him back to third in the Rangers organization earlier this week, up a couple of spots from fifth, where he finished the 2019 season.
Riding the wave of rebounding hype, Taveras has impressed so far in Spring Training as he works with the big league club. He’s played in eight games so far this spring and has 13 plate appearances in which he’s had three singles, a double, an RBI, three walks and just two strikeouts. Good for a .400 average and 1.038 OPS, Taveras has garnered attention not only for his production in an admittedly small sample size, but for his showing away from the field where his approach seems to have improved. Texas believes that the power is there for Taveras if the correct adjustments are made and he continues to clean up his swing in search of the last step keeping him from being considered a potential star.
The bright side for Taveras, albeit less entertaining for fans who are all in on seeing prospects, is that he likely does not have a spot on the big league roster this season, at least to start. He likely will find himself returning to Frisco this season where he can prove that his growth is continuing and something that can be sustained long term. For now, center field is a position with a two man race as both Danny Santana and Nick Solak look to make the jump from regular-utility status, to everyday players. However, barring a big change defensively from one of those two, the long-term future for center field in Arlington is still very much up in the air and among prospects, Leody Taveras seems to be the player with the inside track.