(KSDK Sports) -- Oscar Taveras, the Cardinal's top prospect (for the past three seasons now), has suffered a right hamstring injury and will be held out of action until further notice. The 21-year old right fielder had been hoping to make the club after battling an ankle sprain that limited him to just 46 games last season in Triple-A Memphis. Though he posted strong numbers with a .306 batting average and an OPS of .806, he wasn't able to continue on the same trajectory he had established over his first four minor league seasons when he was a three-time minor league all-star, the Texas League Player of the Year, the organizational Player of the Year, and named a consensus top-3 prospect by MLB.com and Baseball America.
The Cardinals had originally hoped to get Taveras playing time in Memphis and call him up mid-late season for the stretch run last year, a la Michael Wacha. The plan was for him to study under the tutelage of Carlos Beltran before letting him take over as the opening day right fielder in 2014 after Beltran became a free agent. Lucky for the Cardinals, there is not a pressing need for Taveras in the outfield right away due to the emergence of Matt Adams and the versatility of Allen Craig.
Manager Mike Matheny was hesitant to speculate how severe the injury was when questioned in Jupiter on Tuesday morning. He did make one thing clear though, saying that it was not possible for Taveras to make the club if the Cardinals couldn't see him going "100 percent" for a lot of games this spring. "He's a guy who needed to come in and have everything go right in order for that to be a possibility," Matheny said. "We tried to make (health) the focus from the beginning. We kept saying that we needed to see him healthy before we can make any kind of a determination, and we say the same thing now."
Taveras' injury clears up a clouded outfield picture a bit for the Cardinals. With Taveras unlikely to make the team at this point, the team will use Matt Holliday and Allen Craig on the corners while utilizing some sort of Peter Bourjos/Jon Jay platoon in center until one of them steps up and claims the everyday job. It also makes Shane Robinson's presence on the active roster much more likely.
Taveras' future is still bright, as he will turn 22 this season. He will likely spend the first part of the year in Memphis and his role with the big club this season will largely depend on two factors; How Taveras' surgically repaired ankle holds up over the course of the season, and how well Matt Adams produces when exposed to big league pitchers 25 times a week. If Taveras is ever fully healthy though, it will be hard to keep a guy who's hit .320 with 45 home runs and 275 RBI's in the minor leagues held down for long.
Matheny said that there is no timetable for Taveras' return and at this point the team is focusing more on health and conditioning than trying to break camp with the big club.
Stephen Nations is an aspiring sports and Cardinals columnist. He will be contributing his commentary to KSDK.com during the 2014 season. You can follow him on twitter at @Nayshface.