Center-field has been a revolving door of various players for the Texas Rangers in the 10 years since Josh Hamilton signed with the Los Angeles Angels. This season, playing the part of center fielder for the majority of the season was Leody Taveras.
The latest in a long-line of young CF prospects to get his shot at the job, Taveras is a five-tool outfielder and in 2022, he showed all of those tools at times. The main question that arises when recapping his season is whether he did enough to hold on to the job going into 2023 and beyond.
Texas Rangers 2022 Season in Review: Leody Taveras
Taveras was called up on June 13th following a broken wrist injury to Eli White in Chicago. He was everything the team knew he could be. He played in 30 games and had a .341 batting average, .920 OPS, three Home Runs, 15 RBI’s, and five SB’s all while playing Gold-Glove level defense in CF. He was successful at the start because nearly every time he made contact it turned into a hit. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) through the end of the 1st half was .426.
Taveras, a switch-hitter. was making solid contact and driving the ball gap to gap, and line to line. If the season stopped there it would be no question who the 2023 CF would be. He was playing the best ball of his entire career both minors and majors.
The season doesn’t stop in July though. The second half was more of a struggle for Taveras. After batting .341 in July, he slumped to .247 in August, and .192 in September/October. Why did he struggle in the second half. His BABIP fell from .474 in July to .320 in August and .254 in September/October. He stopped making hard contact as often, pitchers started attacking him differently, and he couldn’t get on base at the same clip he was in the 1st half.
One issue that has plagued Taveras throughout his career is that he doesn’t draw walks at a high enough rate. He drew only 21 walks in 341 plate appearances in 2022. Most of that can be traced to his at-bat quality. If he doesn’t get a hit on the first pitch he tends to fall behind in the count. He saw more 0-2, 1-2,2-2 and 3-2 pitches than he saw counts that were in his favor. If he did have counts in his favor his batting average was .466.
Ideally he would be the Rangers lead-off hitter in 2023. In order for that to happen, though, he must get on base more and that means drawing more walks and having better at-bats. The bat tool is there for Taveras and as he gets more experience at the MLB level it should only get better. He can’t rely on that alone though. He has to find other ways to get on-base to help this team.
Leody Taveras had a solid 2022 season
Overall I would grade his season as a B. He had a successful season overall. Defensively, his anticipation and ability to make quick reads is up there with Byron Buxton and Myles Straw. He has a very strong arm as well that limits the amount of bases the opposition is willing to take. He continued working through a prolonged slump and still had moments in September/October that showed he can stay on this level. He had a couple of hits in a win against the Astros on September 6th, a couple of hits against the Angels on the September 21st in a win, and in the game Aaron Judge hit his 62nd home run he also had a home run in that game.
These are moments that showed he wasn’t completely checked out despite the turmoil the team went through the last 2 months of the season.
The final question is did he do enough to secure his job in 2023 and beyond? I believe Leody Taveras showed just enough to warrant another look in 2023. It doesn’t mean the Rangers won’t look around this off-season, but I don’t think they will be aggressively pursuing his replacement though.The focus this off-season should be on pitching.
He showed in 2022 that he is able to make the necessary adjustments to be successful at the plate. If he plays a full season next year there is a good shot he is a finalist for the Gold Glove in 2023. I think with the rule changes being put in place that he can be more aggressive stealing bases as well. He just needs to take that next step to giving consistent at-bats every night and learn how to work counts into his favor. If he can make these improvements he will have a much better 2023 and will not have any problems holding onto the job.
I do think as we head into 2023, this is probably Leody Taveras’ best and last opportunity to claim the job long term. 2020 2nd round pick Evan Carter is lurking down in the minor leagues. He had a breakout year in 2022 and is now looked at as the number three Rangers prospect according to MLB Pipeline. He had a great season for High-A Hickory and then was promoted to AA Frisco in time to help them win their league championship this season. It is expected he will open the 2023 season in Frisco. He would appear to be an option as soon as next summer and definitely in the mix by 2024.