Wednesday, January 18, 2012

DAHOF Top 100 -- #66 Willy Taveras

Selected in the minor league Rule 5 draft by the Astros from the Indians, I first met Willy Taveras in 2004 when he was a member of the AA Round Rock Express. Wearing braces and smiling, he was a wild eyed 22 year old minor leaguer trying to hustle his way to the majors. In an era of juiced up power hitters, Willy was one of those players that built his game entirely on speed. Once he got on base, everyone in the ballpark knew was going to steal second and third -- but very few pitchers/catchers could stop him. Willy tore up the Texas League in 2004, putting together a great season hitting .335 and stealing 55 bases in 105 games. This performance was good enough to earn him a coveted September major league call-up. While his teammates were trying in vain to win the Texas League Championship, he struck out swinging in his first big league at bat against Reds righthander John Riedling.

The next season (2005) Willy won the Astros starting centerfielder job and was selected to the Topps all-rookie team when he led the National League in singles. He had 31 bunt hits and incredible number of infield hits (71). He was a key contributor as the Astros captured their first National League Pennant and made their first World Series appearance in franchise history.

Surprisingly, he was traded to the Colorado Rockies after the 2006 season in the ill-conceived deal that brought Jason Jennings to Houston. Good luck seemed to follow him, because he was also part of the 2007 National League Champion Rockies. He led the National League in steals in 2008 when he swiped 68.

My most vivid memory of Willy is from the 2009 World Baseball Classic. Surprisingly, he was one of the best offensive players for the ultra-talented Dominican Republic squad. He went 2 for 7 with six walks, leading the team in OBP. Sadly, Willy is most remembered for getting thrown out trying to steal third base in the 9th inning of the opening game of pool play, a shocking 3-2 loss to the Dutch national team. Many consider it the biggest upset in World Baseball Classic history. That loss set the stage for their elimination after a second loss to the Dutch.


deal said...

I was at the WBC gm. for various reasons we had to leave early - did see end of gm at the hotel. it was still very exciting. people sometimes rip the WBC, but I happened to really enjoy it. In that gm David Ortiz played the field and I think Jose Reyes DHd because the Dominican had 3 SS and had to DH one of them rather than Ortiz.

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