Stud prospect Oscar Taveras was demoted back to the minors on June 13 after struggling in his 11-game debut with the Cardinals, but the team just announced that he’s been recalled from Triple-A.
Taveras homered in his first big-league game, but went on to hit just .189 with a 7/2 K/BB ratio and .522 OPS overall. He wasn’t great at Triple-A following the demotion, hitting .292 with one homer and a .775 OPS in 13 games, but Taveras has been a monster in the minors overall this season and at age 22 he’s one of the truly elite prospects in baseball.
When the Cardinals sent Taveras down earlier this month they did so because they didn’t want him wasting away on the bench for a team that had plenty of outfield depth to go around, but now manager Mike Matheny seems willing to cut into Allen Craig’s playing time in right field. Craig has hit just .255 with six homers and a .673 OPS in 81 games after posting an .850 OPS from 2010-2013, and limiting him mostly to starts versus left-handed pitchers while using the left-handed-hitting Taveras versus right-handers would make some sense.
The Angels’ bench is looking woefully thin this winter — so thin, in fact, that manager Mike Scioscia says he’s considering utilizing starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner on the days he’s not scheduled to pitch.
I’ve never had a pitcher pinch-run,” Scioscia told reporters Saturday. “There’s more bad than good that can come out of it. But Shohei is not just a pitcher. He’s a guy that has the ability to do some of the things coming off the bench, whether it’s pinch-hit or pinch-run, and we’re definitely going to tap into that if it’s necessary, because we feel we’re not putting him at risk. It’s something he’s able to do.
Granted, spring training allows for a certain amount of experimentation before managers and players decide what works best for them, so this may not be the strategy the Angels employ for the entire season. In addition to coming off the bench between starts, Ohtani is also expected to see 2-3 days at DH every week, forcing Albert Pujols to shift over to first base to accommodate the new two-way star.
Ohtani’s hitting prowess has already been well-documented — he has a lifetime .286/.358/.500 batting line from NPB and crushed a batting practice home run during his initial workouts with the team this week — but his skills on the basepaths have received less attention so far. MLB Pipeline describes the 23-year-old phenom as a “well-above average runner” whose speed has yet to manifest stolen bases: he’s nabbed just 13 bases in 17 chances over the last five years. That’s a number Scioscia hopes to see increased this season, though he doesn’t want his ace pitcher making any head-first slides on the basepaths to do so.
To be sure, it’s an unorthodox role for any young player to step into, but if anyone can pull it off, Ohtani can.