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Pirates Jameson Taillon Makes Successful Debut

By any statistical measure, Pirates pitching phenom Jameson Taillon‘s 2011 was a success. Strong strikeout rates, low walk rates and less than a hit per inning leaves both Pittsburgh and prospect fans in general excited about his developing into the organization’s first top flight starter since Doug Drabek nearly two decades ago (Gerrit Cole has some say in this as well).

Did Taillon impress in person? Most definitely, but the young right-hander scouted quite differently than the numbers indicate. Taillon was actually quite raw and requires considerable refinement even though the numbers say otherwise.

In terms of size and physical development, Jameson Taillon is about as perfect a specimen as one could hope to find. Projecting for both power and durability, it’s easy to envision Taillon averaging 200 innings pitched per season in much more than the generic “workhorse” capacity. My only minor concern is that Taillon did not appear particularly athletic, but having pitched the season at 19, it’s quite possible the slight awkwardness may simply be due to maturing into his 6-foot-6 frame.

With a smooth, 3/4 arm action, Taillon comfortably sat at 94 MPH throughout most of the start working his 4-seam fastball up to 96 on a number of occasions (A contact had Tailling touching 99 MPH later in the season). Early in the outing, Taillon struggled to command the fastball leaving it over the heart of the plate far too often. When above the belt, the pitch flattened out considerably which an offensively challenged Savannah Sand Gnats team was able to handle. I suspect his difficulties early on were due to not finishing out front with his release point.

As the innings wore on, his command sharpened considerably with Taillon adding drop and arm side run down in the zone. However, it seemed as if each batter received one mistake fastball to drive and Mets Aderlin Rodriguez took full advantage depositing a belt high fastball 430 feet to straightaway center field for a majestic home run. Even with a number of mistake pitches, Taillon’s being able to make adjustments to sharpen his command was a positive sign.

Taillon also mixed in a 2-seam fastball at 90-91 MPH with more drop and run than his 4-seamer. Should Taillon develop command of both fastballs to the point where he is able to use them interchangeably, it would take pressure off of his changeup which lags considerably behind the rest of his arsenal.

In discussing his changeup, the 86-87 MPH offering was surprisingly underdeveloped. In using it only a handful of times, Taillon consistently left the pitch up in the zone and let up slightly in his throwing motion. From an organizational standpoint, I suspect refining the pitch will be a primary focus of Taillon’s off-season.

Taillon also flashed a slider at 83 MPH. The pitch was more “true” than what I normally scout at the level as it featured quick, late cut to miss bat barrels. It was an offering I had hoped to see utilized more often, but Taillon chose to work his fastball/curveball combination heavily.

At 79-81 MPH, Taillon’s curveball was easily his best breaking ball. Early on, he struggled to locate, suffering from a bit of wrist wrap off of his ear. This caused him to tip the pitch some leading to more “spinners” that lacked bite. As with his fastball, Taillon’s control of the offering improved throughout as his release point became more consistent and wrist wrap dissipated. By the fifth inning, it was at least solid average with room for additional growth.

In reflecting on Taillon, his outing was a bit of a mixed bag. Having traveled a little over four hours to scout him in person, the expectation was for me to leave the park with a firm belief he was the best pitching prospect I’d ever seen in person. However, Taillon fell a little short of “elite” status in my mind.

In 2011 alone, Taillon ranked as only the fifth best starting pitcher scouted behind Julio Teheran, Danny Hultzen, Rubby De La Rosa and Jarrod Parker in terms of pure “stuff”. Of course Taillon is the youngest of the bunch by at least a couple of years in most cases, but is only a mere 10 months younger than Teheran who has already built up the innings in triple-A to warrant a rotation spot in most big league rotations.

However, having scouted Teheran for three consecutive years has taught me just how quickly an elite prospect can improve. Taillon has the body and fastball movement to hit the fast track, but his lack of developed secondary offerings gives me pause when considering his upside potential. Do I love Taillon as a solid 2/3 at the Major League level? Absolutely, but not as the true ace so many are projecting him to be.

Instead of Roger Clemens or Josh Beckett, the best Texan to comp Jameson Taillon in terms of physique, arsenal and peripherals is John Lackey who has compiled a 3.91 FIP in nearly 1,900 Major League innings. Would Pirates fans be happy with this outcome? Considering the hype, probably not, but that projection would still leave Taillon as the best starting pitcher to don a Pirates uniform since the days Barry Bonds wore the yellow and black.