Oscar Taveras Will Become NL Rookie of the Year Front-Runner

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistMay 31, 2014

ST. LOUIS, MO - MAY 31: Oscar Taveras #18 of the St. Louis Cardinals hits a solo home run, the first of his career, in the fifth inning against the San Francisco Giants at Busch Stadium on May 31, 2014 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

For St. Louis Cardinals fans, it's been a long wait to see top prospect Oscar Taveras in action. The 21-year-old Dominican Republic outfielder was ranked as the No. 2 prospect for 2014 on MLB.com, but he wasn't called into action until Saturday's game against the San Francisco Giants

As it turns out, he appears to be well worth the wait. 

In just his second major league at-bat, he flashed the power that makes him such an exciting prospect. He took the 1-0 pitch deep to right-center to notch his first career home run and give the Cardinals a 1-0 lead over the Giants. 

Given Taveras' youth at just a shade under 22 years old, the home run was a historic one in franchise history, per ESPN Stats & Info:

Taveras finished the day 1-for-3 at the plate as the Cardinals moved to 30-26 on the season in a 2-0 win over the Giants. However, the solo shot was all the slugger needed to launch his candidacy for honors as the National League Rookie of the Year. 

With the season just over a third of the way in, Taveras has some ground to make up. Contenders such as Michael Olt and Chris Owings have played as many as 45 and 51 games, respectively. But make no mistake about it: Taveras will quickly enter himself into the race. 

The hype surrounding Taveras is backed up by his impressive minor league numbers.

Prior to his call-up to replace an injured Matt Adams on the Cardinals roster, Taveras was hitting .325 with seven homers and 40 RBI in 49 games at the Triple-A level this season. 

JUPITER, FL - FEBRUARY 28: Oscar Taveras #87 of the St. Louis Cardinals hits a grand slam home run in the first inning against the Miami Marlins at the Roger Dean Stadium on February 28, 2013 in Jupiter, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Of course, the obvious retort to Taveras becoming a front-runner for the NL Rookie of the Year honors this year would be the case of Yasiel Puig last season. After all, the hyped Los Angeles Dodgers slugger was passed over for the award last season in favor of Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez. 

Would a similar power barrage for the Cardinals rookie equate to a similar failure to bring home the hardware?

Possibly, but the situation is quite different. 

Whereas Puig came into a Rookie of the Year race loaded with contenders, Taveras is entering a race that doesn't feature many well-qualified candidates this early in the race. Here's a look at what a few of the top candidates thus far have done at the plate:

Top NL Rookies Stats (As of May 31)
PlayerTeamPositionAVGHRRBIOBPSLG
Chris OwingsARISS.26939.313.404
Billy HamiltonCINOF.247110.287.337
Mike OltCHC3B.165924.248.402
MLB.com

As one can see, there are some solid numbers being put up in the National League, but the competition isn't nearly as stiff as in the American League. Players like Jose Abreu and Masahiro Tanaka are putting up numbers that Taveras won't be able to make up as the season goes along. 

The wait might have been excruciating for Cardinals fans. It's never fun waiting on a tantalizing talent like Taveras to make his debut. But he's entering the season with plenty of time to make his impact on the season. 

With his first game already providing some fireworks at the plate, that impact is going to be felt not only by the opposing pitchers, but by his fellow Rookie of the Year contenders.