Cardinals manager Mike Matheny has publicly declared top prospect Oscar Taveras unlikely to make the team out of spring training thanks to lingering issues with his surgically-repaired ankle followed by a tweaked hamstring.
While no one is writing off Taveras at this point, there is obvious reason for concern. Last year at this time the slugging outfielder was going to go to the minors for half a season of polishing before making his triumphant debut with the big league club. If he doesn't make the club, he could find himself nearly a year behind schedule.
If nothing else, it's a sobering reminder of the fact that being a top draft pick or a top prospect is no guarantee of major league success. And the examples are all around.
On Tuesday the Houston Astros released former top Cardinals prospect Brett Wallace who was traded in 2009 for Matt Holliday. Wallace, who hit .214 last season and failed to develop any significant power even while playing in Houston's cozy ballpark, was the subject of much hand wringing when the Redbirds dealt him for Holliday. Five seasons later, he's without a job.
It was shocking to St. Louis fans when the Oakland Athletics flipped Wallace shortly after acquiring him from the Cardinals. The A's sent Wallace to Toronto for the Blue Jays' top prospect, slugging outfielder Michael Taylor.
Taylor is another can't miss prospect who seems to have strayed of the mark. He's got a .135 career batting average in the major leagues, logging only 81 total plate appearances over the past three seasons. He's off to a great start this spring as he makes a bid for a permanent place on the Oakland roster. But he's 28 years old. So it seems like he'll never have the career that was envisioned five years ago.
I sure hope Taveras doesn't find a way to fall between the cracks. He seems like he has all the tools to be very special. But there are countless players who would have been great -- if they could only stay healthy.
The thing that concerns me the most is that the Cardinals seem to be losing patience with a guy who just six months ago they liked so much that they wouldn't even consider trading him -- even for a top young shortstop. Why go public with comments about him not having a chance to make the opening day roster? That's going to damage his potential trade value in the future. So it's make it or break it in St. Louis. The only reason to do such a thing is if the Redbirds think Taveras needs a serious attitude adjustment -- and they wanted to embarrass him into turning things up a notch. And, if a guy who is on the cusp of the big leagues is complacent, Taveras has more serious problems than his legs.