JUPITER, Fla. – At this time last year, Mike Trout was 20. Bryce Harper was 19. By the time the season ended, they were Rookies of the Year.
Now, the most hyped minor-league outfielder is in the St. Louis Cardinals’ spring camp. Oscar Taveras is 20. A native of the Dominican Republic, he is the consensus No. 3 prospect in the game, according to Baseball America.
And Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak acknowledged Sunday that Taveras could join Trout and Harper in the major leagues before the 2013 season is over.
“I certainly wouldn’t bet against it at this point,” Mozeliak said in an interview with FOXSports.com. “He’s a tremendous talent. The thing he has going against him right now is we have a very veteran outfield. For him to get at-bats, he’s much better off developing at his age.
“If I knew he’d play every day, it might be a different question.”
In other words: If the Cardinals didn’t have seven-time All-Star Carlos Beltran in right field, Taveras could be competing for a spot in the Opening Day lineup despite not playing above Double-A. Taveras can play center field, as well, but Jon Jay is established as the starter there.
Beltran, though, is scheduled to become a free agent after this season. So Taveras, who turns 21 this June, is poised to have a regular spot in the Cardinals’ outfield by 2014.
“He’s a tremendous talent,” Mozeliak said. “When his day comes, it’ll come. He’s an offensive player. He’s just one of those guys who hits the ball hard and often and gets positive results.
“When you look at him from a high level, he’s a complete baseball payer. He’s still developing defensively. You have to remind yourself: He’s 20. He has all the tools to be great, but he still has to learn the game and to respect the game. If he does all that, he has a tremendous future.”
Taveras amassed a .953 OPS with 23 home runs and 94 RBI in 124 games with the Cardinals’ Double-A affiliate in Springfield, Mo., last year.
-- Jon Paul Morosi