The Cardinals trimmed their big-league spring training roster on Thursday by optioning three players, including highly regarded outfield prospect Oscar Taveras, to the minors. Taveras has been slowed by ankle and hamstring injuries since reporting to camp but is nearing a return to the field. The Cardinals, though, have apparently seen enough for now and will deny him of the opportunity to face MLB-caliber competition for the remainder of the spring.
This seems like a premature decision for a couple of reasons. One, it was injury, not ineffectiveness, that prevented Taveras from possibly reaching the majors last year. He was sidelined with the ankle ailment in May but had already shown he was ready to contribute at the highest level by hitting .306/.341/.462 while playing much-improved outfield defense as a 20-year-old in Triple-A.
Two, Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos, both of whom are on St. Louis' MLB roster ahead of Taveras, are probably not as good as he is right now, let alone going forward. Bourjos, prior to his injury-plagued 2013 season, has been a terrific outfielder in the majors, so he gets a pass even though he's a far inferior hitter. However, Jay's league-average bat doesn't make up for his poor fielding; he was 16 runs below average in the outfield last season, the main reason why he was a 1.5 rWAR player despite hitting a respectable .276/.351/.370.
It's highly probable that Taveras wouldn't even crack the starting lineup even if he made the team. The Cardinals plan to have Bourjos start in center, which, again, is perfectly reasonable. They also seem fine with Allen Craig in right field, and while it appears he's weak there defensively, he does possess the bat to make up for it, unlike Jay. Matt Holliday falls into the same category as Craig in the other corner. But there could still be some at-bats to be had for Taveras.
Matt Adams, who is slated to be the team's everyday first baseman, does not hit left-handed pitching well, as evidenced by his career .218 on-base percentage against southpaws. He never struggled with it in the minors, but neither has Taveras; he's hit lefties to the tune of a .302/.364/.473 clip in his career. If Adams continues to struggle in that department, Craig could slide to first and open up a spot in right field for Taveras on days when the opposition starts a tough lefty.
Craig and Bourjos haven't exactly been the poster boys for health, either, so it's quite possible that Taveras will wind up getting his shot sooner rather than later, anyway. But getting him some at-bats against MLB-quality pitching now seems just as crucial as having him rack up plate appearances at a level that he's probably going to dominate anyway. It just doesn't appear that the Cardinals are willing to do that yet.