With the 2021 season having come to a close, we are looking back at the year that was for members of the Texas Rangers.
Today we are looking at centerfielder Leody Taveras.
The Texas Rangers’ 2021 season was full of disappointments. I’m not sure any of them, however, top Leody Taveras’s 2021 season.
We’d been waiting forever for Leody’s bat to come around. The defense has always been top tier, the baserunning ability is good...if Leody could just hit a little, he’d be a major leaguer. If Leody could just hit a lot, he’d be an All Star.
Leody was also the latest Great Centerfield Hope, the newest player the Rangers hoped could solidify a position that has been an area of weakness throughout the franchise’s history. For as far back as I can remember, center field has been a problem area for the Rangers. When T.R. Sullivan, in 2020, listed the five best center fielders in team history, he had Josh Hamilton — who played more corner outfield that center field — first, followed by Oddibe McDowell, Juan Beniquez, Del Unser (who never played for the Rangers, just their predecessor Senators), and Gary Matthews, Jr.
Its a motley list.
September, 2020, was a month of false hope for a number of young Rangers. Anderson Tejeda was impressive. Sam Huff had a nice major league debut. Kyle Cody had a 1.59 ERA.
And Leody Taveras slashed .227/.308/.395 while going 8 for 8 stealing bases in 33 games. It wasn’t great, but a 93 OPS+ from a 21 year old who plays great center field defense? You’ll take that every day of the week, and twice on Sundays.
Thus spring training 2021 opened with Leody as the favorite for the center field job. He had a poor start to camp, to the point there was talk he’d start the year in AAA instead of the majors. He was better in the second half, leading manager Chris Woodward to anoint both Leody and fellow rookie Eli White as starting outfielders, guys who would get regular playing time.
They were, of course, both terrible at the plate. Leody looked terrible from the jump, struck out a ton, and finally was sent down in late April. He had slashed .087/.160/.087 in 50 plate appearances, striking out 23 times while walking just 3 times. It was a disaster.
So Leody was returned to the Alternate Training Site, then went to Round Rock when the AAA season began. He started out poorly there, as well, before getting on a hot streak, mashing for a while, then cooling down again, then heating back up. In all he had a .245/.343/.475 slash line for the Express, with 95 Ks against 49 walks in 381 plate appearances, before being brought back up to the majors in late August.
Leody wasn’t particularly good upon his return — he slashed .188/.224/.336 in 34 games — though he did end the year with a .252 xwOBA which, while still bad, isn’t quite as awful as the .209 wOBA he had in the majors would indicate.
And so the plan for 2022 is for Leody to return to Round Rock, get at bats there, and see if he can show enough with the bat to earn a return to the big leagues before the 2022 season is over. This is not where we wanted Leody Taveras to be entering 2022.
For what it is worth, he’s not alone. Cristian Pache, a top 10 prospect in all of MLB entering the 2021 season as a 22 year old elite defensive centerfielder with questions about his bat, slashed .111/.152/.206 for the Atlanta Braves before being sent down for good in mid-May to AAA, where he slashed .265/.330/.414 the rest of the way.
Jarred Kelenic, the Seattle Mariners prospect who was also a top 10 in baseball guy entering 2021 as a 21 year old corner outfielder, was called up in mid-May and slashed .096/.185/.193 before being sent back down in early June. Brought back up in mid-July, he put up a 440 OPS in July and a 653 OPS in August before, slashing .248/.331/.524 in a strong finish to the season in September, ending the year with a .181/.265/.350 slash line.
Hitting a baseball well is hard. Leody struggled mightily in 2021. So did some of his highly regarded peers.
Let’s cross our fingers and hope that we get a bounce back year from Leody in 2022.