Taveras, Wong make presence felt in KC
Cards reps at Futures Game show off before, during All-Star event
KANSAS CITY -- The attention, the accolades, it has all come relatively naturally and regularly for Oscar Taveras since he signed with the Cardinals as a non-drafted free agent in 2008. And on Sunday, while surrounded by baseball's best young talent in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game, the outfielder still managed to steal his time in the spotlight.
Though he had just one hit in the game, Taveras, less than a month removed from his 20th birthday, put on a display of impressive power during batting practice. One swing produced a home run that landed above the batter's eye in center field. He dropped another one of his homers into the Kauffman Stadium fountain.
"They felt great," Taveras said afterward. "But I didn't really look."
Well, everyone else did. And they likely will be for a while.
Taveras and Double-A teammate Kolten Wong represented the Cardinals in this summer's Futures Game. Wong started at second base and hit second for the U.S. Team. Taveras served as the World Team's starting right fielder and No. 3 hitter. He finished the game in center.
"I've been trying to work hard," Taveras said, through a translator, prior to the game. "I'm going to keep working to see if I can be a Major Leaguer in the next few years. I'm going to do the best I can to try and make the best showing that I can."
Taveras finished 1-for-3 with a sacrifice fly. He attempted to steal in the fifth but was thrown out, and he was charged with an error when one of his throws missed the cutoff man. Wong went hitless in two at-bats, but scored a run after reaching on a three-base error in the fourth.
Taveras was one of three World Team players to play all nine innings. Wong played the first four innings of the U.S. team's 17-5 win.
Wong and Taveras, who are ranked by MLB.com as the Cardinals organization's top two position player prospects, have been stars for Double-A Springfield this season. Both recently appeared in the Texas League All-Star Game, and they own two of the top three league batting averages.
Taveras, who is hitting .322, is among the Texas League leaders in home runs (17) and RBIs (63), as well. Wong has a .310 average, along with 15 stolen bases, 47 runs scored and a .384 on-base percentage.
"He was quite polished for a college player when he entered our system last year, and is extremely coachable, which has helped him to improve as the season progresses," Cardinals farm director John Vuch said of Wong. "He has no glaring weaknesses, so it's ultimately just a matter of continuing to refine his overall game."
The Cardinals anticipated that Wong, their first-round pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, would move quickly through the Minor League system. By signing early last summer, Wong also had the benefit of launching his pro career a summer earlier than others in his Draft class.
Wong's production in those 47 games last summer, and his performance in Spring Training, prompted the Cardinals to challenge Wong by placing him in Springfield. It's feasible that Wong could be in Triple-A before the end of the year.
"It's been awesome to be doing as well as I am to this point," Wong said. "Because the Texas League is only an eight-team league, you have to really learn how to adjust. I really just started to learn to hit the right way and use what the pitcher gives me."
Taveras was similarly challenged by the Cardinals this year, joining Wong by making the rare jump over high Class A. The Cardinals were never concerned about Taveras' ability to hit Double-A pitching. But they did ask him to focus on improving his defense and baserunning.
By all accounts, Taveras has made strides in both.
"I've seen a lot of maturity from Oscar," Wong said. "Last year I played with him and he was really good, but you knew if he had a little more maturity, he could be really good. This year, you see him start to take it a lot more seriously and start to really do things that will benefit him in the long run -- like working on his defense. He's gotten really good."
Taveras has also enjoyed a power surge, something that he credits to increased strength. After hitting 17 homers in his first 786 professional at-bats (spanning 2009-11), Taveras has matched that total in 307 at-bats in 2012.
"I've been really working in the gym, and my work at the gym has been paying off," Taveras said. "I have not been getting tired. I'm happy about that, too."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.