Center field has been where dreams of grandeur have went to die for the Texas Rangers. Josh Hamilton roamed center field from 2008-2012. Since then and before then it was a revolving door of athletic types who couldn't hit or players that could hit but couldn't field. If they did find someone who did both they were only here for a short time. Think Gary Matthews Jr, Marlon Byrd, and Laynce Nix. Leody Taveras is the latest prospect to have the label future center fielder attached to him and for the first time in a long time there might be something to that. Taveras has performed at such a high level in May that it is looking like that he is putting to rest any questions of who the center fielder of the future is.
Texas Rangers' Leody Taveras in the month of May
Taveras this month has been maybe the second or third-best center fielder in all of baseball. He leads all center fielders this month in batting average at .395, and on-base percentage at .448. He is third in OPS at .983. He continues to play great defense in center field and is excelling from the ninth spot in the order. The question with Taveras has never been about his talent. It has always been about Taveras being able to produce consistently and make adjustments throughout the season.
Taveras was on the Opening Day roster in 2020 and 2021, but was sent down early in 2021 due to poor performance. He did come back at the end of the season, but started 2022 at Triple-A Round Rock. He earned his spot back on the roster in June 2022. The rest of the first half he had a .341 batting average, a .920 OPS, and had three home runs, and 15 RBI's. It is very similar to what he is doing currently. He was not able to keep this up. In the second half his batting average fell to .231 and his OPS was .585.
There are reasons to believe this is more sustainable. He is striking out less and walking more. His batting average is higher against fastballs and offspeed than they were last season. It also helps that he is making better contact on balls in the zone. He is making contact with 83.5% of those pitches. He is chasing less at 23.8%. He is also swinging at the first pitch much less at 30.8%. His approach to every at-bat has certainly changed. He is not just a free swinger. He is going up there with a plan and executing that plan.
Why Leody Taveras is the Texas Rangers' center fielder of the future.
We often forget this, but Taveras is still just 24-years old. It seems like he is much older because he was up in 2020 at 21 years old. He will not be arbitration eligible till after the 2024 season. He will not be a free agent till after the 2027 season. The Rangers have the potential for Taveras to occupy center field for this team for the next five years.
Taveras is playing very well right now, but there is another level he can get to. Right now, most everything he hits is low-line drives. The exit velocities would seem to show there is serious power in his bat. This season his exit velocity is on average 90mph. He makes contact with the sweet spot 43.6% of the time. If he can learn to elevate the ball more he could become a 20-30 home a year player.
The best news about Taveras playing so well is that the Rangers can now slow play it with Evan Carter. There were points in April where fans were calling for the 20-year old Carter to be promoted from Frisco much earlier than the Rangers would have been comfortable doing. The Rangers can now allow Carter to advance at his own pace. He can spend most of this season in Frisco and then finish in Round Rock. Then start next season in Round Rock or in the majors. He can mature, develop and be ready when the phone rings. That would be much better than to be called up to fill a need.
Leody Taveras has been so good that he has quieted the critics and fans alike. He is displaying the talent that the Rangers knew he had all along. He is helping this team in ways that not even his biggest fans could have expected. He is the center fielder of the first place Texas Rangers. If he continues to play like this he will be the center fielder of the playoff-bound Texas Rangers. Then he will really be able to claim his title of center fielder of the future.