As I sit here watching today’s St. Louis Cardinals game the hype machine is in full effect once again. Last night word came out that the Cardinals’ top prospect, Oscar Tavares, would be called up and make his professional debut today. Since then the hype machine went into over-drive. We have heard about Taveras, the 21-year old outfielder, for five years now. He has been compared to Carlos Beltran, Vladimir Guerrero, and been labeled as the Cardinals best hitting prospect since Albert Pujols. Now comes the true test. To see if he can live up to this hype.
I do not want to break-down Taveras’ talents but with all of this hype it reminds me of the previous hype we have seen over players. Baseball, maybe more so than any other sport, can be fickle in what players are destined to be starts in the game. We have seen numerous prospects tear it up in the minor leagues only to never fully grasp the game at the major league level for whatever reason. We have seen minor leaguers get by with nothing spectacular to arrive in the big leagues and never look back. Very few times however does a prospect truly live up to their hype.
Let’s take a look at some previous super-hyped prospects. The last hyped hitting prospect for the Cardinals was Colby Rasmus. Rasmus was drafted in the first round by the Cardinals out of high school, where he passed Bo Jackson for second most home runs in Alabama state history. Rasmus spent three years in the minors, working his way up the organization, and in 2009 was listed as the #3 prospect in all of baseball. While Rasmus showed signs of his talent he was often hit and miss, as Cardinal fans are well-aware. In 2010, at the age of 23, Rasmus hit .276 with 23 home runs, 66 runs batted in and 12 stolen bases. It looked like he was headed to stardom. However that would be his peak. He has hit 20 or more runs in three of his five seasons so far but never more than 23. Meanwhile his batting average has never reached above .276 and in fact has hit below .251 in three of those season, including hitting .222 this year.
Before Rasmus the Cardinals had yet another recent hyped up prospect back in the late 1990’s; J.D. Drew. After a standout career at Florida State University, where he garnered Player of the Year honors by numerous publications and became the first collegiate player with 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases in the same season, Drew was drafted second overall in 1997 by the Philadelphia Phillies. But with agent Scott Boras by his side he held out for a larger contract, falling to the Cardinals at #5 overall in the 1998 draft. The Cardinals bucked up for Drew and signed him to a $7 million contract. After a short stint at Triple A Drew made his debut in September 1998, the night Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris’ single season home run record. Drew would finish the 1998 season hitting .417 with five home runs and 13 RBI in 14 games. The Cardinals and their fans couldn’t wait to see what Drew could do in a full season. While Drew struggled a bit in the next year he found his groove as to the type of player he would become in the majors. Drew would go on to hit .280 or above in seven of his next nine seasons while hitting at least 15 home runs in 10 of his 14 seasons. Drew’s career numbers would come out to average a .278 batting average with 25 home runs and 82 runs batted in; making one All-Star appearance (2008). Not a bad career at all but not the full potential people thought when he first arrived.
Now let’s take a look outside the Cardinals organization into some other top hyped prospects around the league. Bryce Harper has been touted as the next start since he was in high school, making the cover of Sports Illustrated. While Harper has shown enormous talent potential since being drafted as the #1 overall prospect in 2010. After one full season in the minors Harper was called up in 2012 and went on to earn National League Rookie of the Year honors. So far Harper has hit at least 20 home runs in each of his first two season, he is currently out with an injury this year in his third season, and has been named to a pair of All-Star teams. Harper is still quite young and so far is a .270 hitter with 20 home run potential. Again pretty decent numbers but not the instant star impact some may have been thinking for the phenom.
Baseball’s top young player, Mike Trout, is really the only hyped prospect recently to really live up the billing this far and he was not always the “can’t miss” type. While he was draft in the first-round of the 2009 draft out of high school Trout was only ranked the #85 overall prospect in baseball after his first year of professional ball. However in his second season Trout began to show signs of stardom (and the hype built). Trout would sky-rocket up the rankings and was ranked the second best overall prospect in baseball and tabbed as the Topps Minor League Player of the Year in 2010. Trout made his major league debut in July of 2011 but was actually sent back to the minors before being recalled in late August. Trout actually started 2012 in the minors once more being called up in late April and has since then he has not looked back; putting up historic numbers for not just a player of his age but of any player.
No prospect is the same. With today’s media hype over a prospect is inevitable and grows exponentially. However as we have seen sometimes the hype never gets met. It is not the players fault, succeeding at the major league level is hard to do. I hope that Taveras can live up to his hype. If he becomes a Carlos Beltran Part II, I will gladly take that. But for the media and fans that are counting on Taveras to spark the Cardinal offense and take this team to the heights we all thought they could reach at the beginning of the season; well that’s using hype (of Taveras) to achieve the hype of the pre-season for the Cardinals. Welcome to the big leagues Oscar, you have reached your dreams; by the way apparently now it’s time for you to help Cardinal fans reach their dreams of another World Series title in 2014. I wish you the best.