Leody Taveras was always a glove-first prospect. Evaluators praised his long strides, top-tier sprint speed, and powerful arm, with Baseball America naming him the best defensive outfielder in the Rangers system three years in a row. He showed potential in his bat, too, but never quite reached his ceiling in the minor leagues. However, if you’d only seen Taveras play in the 2023 postseason, you’d never guess that his bat was once such a question mark.
The 25-year-old has started in center field for all seven of the Rangers’ playoff games thus far. He has taken 29 trips to the plate and reached base 14 times; among those still active in the postseason, only Bryce Harper, Corey Seager, Evan Carter, and Trea Turner have reached base more often. Taveras has drawn six walks, slapped five singles, and recorded one of each flavor of extra-base hit. He’s 3-for-3 in stolen base attempts, and he hasn’t struck out since Game 1 of the ALDS. Overall, his slash line sits at .348/.483/.609, good for a 199 wRC+. Needless to say, those aren’t numbers you expect to see from a “glove-first” center fielder.
Taveras wasn’t nearly as successful with the bat during the regular season (nor is he likely to sustain his monstrous postseason slash line), but he did take a meaningful step forward at the plate. In his first full season, he slashed .266/.312/.421, career highs in all three categories. What’s more, he brought his strikeout rate down below league average and finally tapped into the raw power evaluators always saw in his profile. His average exit velocity went up, he refined his launch angles, and he hit more barrels than in his first three seasons combined. In 143 games, the switch-hitter slugged 14 home runs and 31 doubles, and he legged out three triples to boot.
While Taveras went through a rough patch in the second half, slashing .191/.224/.316 during the first six weeks after the All-Star break, he turned things around in September. Over his final 26 games, he went 26-for-84, hitting .310 and producing a 126 wRC+. Even the best hitters go through slumps, and the good ones have the resilience to come out swinging on the other side.
Altogether, his regular season offensive numbers add up to a 98 wRC+. That’s two percent worse than the league-average hitter, but it’s worth considering that Taveras plays a premium defensive position. According to FanGraphs, primary center fielders produced a 98 wRC+ this season, making Taveras perfectly average for his position. Average offense is more than enough for a player who also boasts elite speed and an excellent glove.
Indeed, Taveras proved to be a five-tool player in 2023. He stole 14 bases with his 92nd-percentile sprint speed, and he graded out as a strong defender by nearly every metric available. The Rangers’ center fielder posted a .997 fielding percentage, 3 Defensive Runs Saved, and 6 Outs Above Average. According to Baseball Savant, he ranked in the 85th percentile in overall fielding run value, thanks to his strong arm and quick reactions in the outfield.
After his breakout campaign in 2023, the Rangers are surely hoping Taveras will be their center fielder for the foreseeable future. Still just 25 years old, he won’t be arbitration-eligible until the 2025 season, and he won’t reach free agency for another three years after that. Leody Taveras can’t maintain his postseason performance forever, but if he keeps playing like he did this past season, the Rangers certainly won’t complain.