With first baseman Matt Adams expected to come off the disabled list Friday, the St. Louis Cardinals are at a crossroads.
When Adams went onto the disabled list a couple of weeks ago with a leg injury, the Redbirds were prompted to finally pull the trigger, calling top prospect Oscar Taveras up to the big leagues.
Taveras, batting .325 with 7 homers and 40 RBIs in Class AAA this season, has nothing left to prove in the minors. But to be in the major leagues, he needs to play a lot to best continue his development. And that's a problem with Adams back in the mix.
Since Adams can only play first base, if Taveras is in the lineup he will have to share right field with Allen Craig. Although he spent some time in centerfield in the minor leagues, the Cards haven't shown much interest in playing Taveras there in St. Louis.
After a slow start to the season, Craig has been one of the most consistent Cardinals hitters since April 30. In that span he's batting .287 with two homers and 17 RBIs. It will be hard to take him out of the picture, especially against southpaw pitchers, because Adams and Taveras are both lefties.
Adams has a strong case for playing time with the highest batting average among Cardinals regulars. He's hitting .325, although his power has been a disappointment with three homers and 17 RBIs.
As hot as he was in the minors, Taveras has struggled at the big league level. He's batting .189 with one homer, hit in his first game in the majors, and two RBIs through 40 plate appearances.
That's an awfully small sample size, so no one is saying that Taveras isn't going to improve. But to do so he's going to have to play consistently.
Is manager Mike Matheny going to be willing to put a struggling rookie in the line-up at the cost of keeping one of his more productive hitters out of the middle of the batting order? I sure hope not. As much as I would like to see the Birds play up to their potential this season, I'd really hate to see them damage the future by failing to develop Taveras into a major-league offensive force.
Personally, I'd like to see Taveras get a chance in center at least a couple of times a week. He's certainly got to hit better than Peter Bourjos has. And people are so critical of the defense of Jon Jay that most probably couldn't conceive that Taveras would be much of a downgrade with the glove (although I think Jay is seriously under-rated.)
If he played two or three times in center and two or three times in right with an occasional appearance in left when Matt Holliday could use a break, Taveras could be a full-time player and the Cardinals could still have at least as good of a chance to be competitive as they would be if Taveras was in Memphis punishing minor league pitchers.