In 2001 there were no Cardinals blogs—hardly any blogs at all, hardly any Baseball Prospectus readers—and there was no easy way to follow the minor leagues from day to day. But even if there had been, Albert Pujols would have surprised us. Nobody was waiting for Albert Pujols. Everybody was waiting for J.D. Drew, despite all of those same things being true, because he'd already earned millions of dollars and the hatred of an entire city, and that's the kind of thing you don't need blogs to publicize.
If you were diagramming prospect successes and failures you could put Albert Pujols in the upper left corner, totally unheralded and totally successful, and—well, not J.D. Drew, but maybe Rick Ankiel—in the lower right. You could draw a line between them, sloping downward, through Matt Carpenter and Allen Craig and (0, 0) and then Colby Rasmus, maybe.
We'll be busy this year, even just watching the outfield, but we'll spend a lot of internet-commenting time wondering and arguing about where to put Oscar Taveras on the same graph. (Or at least our arguing about where he fits on the y-axis will determine where he ends up on the x.)
The good news is that after his bad year Oscar Taveras is still projected by ZiPS to hit .287/.331/.448 next year. After his own lost season Colby Rasmus was projected at .237/.314/.401, which was basically what he hit. .287/.331/.448 is Taveras showing off all his tools—the doubles, the average, even a few more walks than we might expect.
The weird news
But the thing that made Colby Rasmus so confusing and ultimately so disappointing wasn't that season itself but that it kept us from casting judgment on him. It wasn't good, but it was complicated by its adequacy, and by his unexpectedly high UZR.
In Rasmus's case that kept happening—a great season with an absurdly high batting average on balls in play, then a poor one, then a trade, then a poor one, and now another good one.
Oscar Taveras is not in line to get the actual Colby Rasmus treatment, but the Cardinals' roster has been rebuilt to avoid answering any particular questions about their top prospect. Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos and Allen Craig and Matt Adams have his positions covered two deep. One injury will get him on the bench, like it got Kolten Wong on the bench, but it won't get him in the lineup unless someone else is underperforming, and once somebody's on the bench everything he does is subject to second-guessing and reserved judgment.
On the field, the only place any of this really matters, the moves the Cardinals made and didn't make all seem like the right ones. But on the axis you and I control, where hype and anti-hype meet and get tired of each other, I worry a little.
Oscar Taveras is a great prospect, and what he does or doesn't do will be the difference between a clutch of all-star seasons and 16 starts from Edwin Jackson. We'll talk, and we should; we'll talk until we're exhausted by the conversation, and until we've exhausted all the fragmented data he's given us in this strange season. At that point, I just hope we don't mistake it for being exhausted by Taveras himself.