[Hello, LSB. It’s your pal Coylio, here to guide you through the bitter wintery offseason and to be your one set of footprints carrying you on through to spring training. It’s a rough time, I know. December is about when the baseball jonesing starts to kick in. In an effort to fill a chunk of the baseball sized hole in your heart, I’ll be writing up some of the Rangers’ most notable farmhands regarding what they did in 2018 and what they’ll be doing in 2019.]
I’ll be starting off with center fielder Leody Taveras, who seems to have turned a bit polarizing among prospect-heads both nationally and on LSB.
The two main things that Taveras has going for him heading into 2019 (besides, you know, baseball acumen) are youth and upside. Signed by the Rangers in 2015 (in a class that included Juan Soto and Vlad Jr. to set an annoyingly high bar) the team hasn’t been shy about challenging Taveras as a teenager. In 2016 he was one of four seventeen-year-olds to play in Low-A, and he played in more games than any of the others. In 2017 he was pushed again, promoted to A-Ball where he spent the entire season with the Crawdads, one of only a dozen eighteen-year-olds to do so. And last season it continued, the Rangers sending Taveras Down East and keeping him there the whole year, where he logged over 500 ABs as the sixth youngest player in the Carolina League.
As for his offensive performance I think it can be described with the baseball cliche of “holding his own.” The switch-hitting Taveras has posted similar numbers in Hickory and Kinston, slashing .249/.312/.360 with the Crawdads and .246/.312/.332 with the Wood Ducks, with a respectable K% of 16 and BB% of 8 in both seasons. Modest numbers, but encouraging when you take into account that he’s around three years younger than the guys he’s been playing against. Taveras shows good plate discipline and on-base skills and ended the year on a 21-game on-base streak.
The sticking point with Taveras among scouts and prospect people seems to be whether or not they think his raw power is ever going to come to fruition in games. If he’s going to be a 5-10 dinger a year guy or a 15-20 dinger a year guy. The smash is there in batting practice, but Taveras has only 13 home runs through over 250 games of full-season ball.
It could require a change to a loftier swing, as he’s been more of a strokey gap-to-gap hitter, with which his speed has resulted in 36 doubles and 14 triples over the last two seasons.
Taveras’ center field defense is legit. He looks smooth and easy out there and has plus-speed and a plus-arm. His defense is going to carry his prospect status and lift his floor projection. Taveras could develop into a below-average to slightly below-average Major League hitter and still be a productive player with the speed and the defense and the on-base. I think the pre-season reports on him here in a few months are going to be very similar to the ones prior to the 2018 season (maybe a little more pessimistic), but the continued defensive prowess has, in my opinion, negated a lot of the risk-factor that Taveras once presented.
Taveras is the first of a three-part series entitled “What Do We Do With All These Toolsy Center Fielders?” that Rangers’ new farm director Matt Blood will become well-versed in. Taveras, Bubba Thompson, and Julio Pablo Martinez are all on about the same rung of the prospect ladder and all of them need to be playing center field every day, so theoretically they’ll once again be playing on three different teams. Last year it was Taveras, Thompson and Martinez at the A+, A and A- levels, respectively, but there’s been speculation that there could be some jumbling in 2019. Most notably, JPM, the oldest of the three, could skip a couple levels and start 2019 in Frisco, with Taveras and Thompson repeating their levels or possibly splitting time Down East. Another possibility would be Thompson taking center in Frisco with Taveras repeating as a Wood Duck and Martinez debuting at the A-ball level.
As for Leody, it’s conceivable that he could start the year with a promotion to AA, have a strong season, and make a late-2019 big league debut on what will almost certainly be cellar-dwelling Rangers team. That’s pretty pie-in-the-sky, but as a 2015 signee he’ll be added to the 40-man some time in 2019 regardless. It most definitely would not hurt him to start the year at High-A once again or even to repeat the whole year there. But I’d prioritize getting him as many CF reps as possible over all else, whether it be with Frisco or Down East.
Some luster was lost with Leody in 2018. He fell on Pipeline’s top 100 and he lost his top spot on LSB’s Community Rankings and he was completely left off Baseball America’s Carolina League Top 20. His lack of offense has worried some, but he’s still a 20-year-old at a premium position with five tools that project to be average to plus. That’s gonna be a universally coveted prospect.
For a nationally-ranked prospect he’s been sort of lowkey and underexposed to the Rangers’ fanbase thus far. Kinston doesn’t support an milb.tv broadcast, so only on rare occasions were his games watchable. Hell, you can’t even find a picture of him at the Futures Game because all the ones that say Leody Taveras are actually of the Padres’ Luis Urias. I’m hoping he’s promoted to AA Frisco in large part just so the Rangers’ fanbase get to see him play every day and witness what he can do. 2019 is a big year for the Rangers’ young center fielder.