The head start the Cardinals planned to give outfielder Oscar Taveras toward his major-league debut stalled this month before it even started, and because the club’s top prospect wasn’t healthy, his development has been delayed.

Two officials referred to his health as “a roadblock.”

“I think (the spring) could be looked at, in his eyes at least, as a step back,” manager Mike Matheny said. “He came in here with a shot of making this club if things go right. We’ve always said a step back isn’t necessarily a bad thing if it’s handled the right way. The initial step back happened when he got hurt last year. I know we were hoping, he was hoping that he would have that behind him by the time he got to spring training. (It) just didn’t happen.”

The Cardinals optioned Taveras to minor-league camp Thursday evening, and he could debut in a game there as soon as today.

Taveras had ankle surgery last August and had difficulty trusting the rebuilt joint early this spring. When he reached the lineup — and doubled in his first at-bat — he was undone by a hamstring strain. He was limited to six at-bats and, as a member of the 40-man roster, isn’t eligible to return to the major-league camp without a transaction.

His absence from games this spring is a stark contrast to a year ago when Taveras, now 21, led the Cardinals in Grapefruit League at-bats. Matheny couldn’t stop playing him. Taveras had 22 hits in 76 at-bats last spring and clubbed two homers.

He ends this spring with the double he got on his first swing.

With Taveras unable to take the field and do many of the workouts, his conditioning started to wane, and favoring his right ankle may have contributed to the right hamstring injury.

Matheny spoke to Taveras about the message the option should send.

The manager would like it “to turn into motivation.”