Jameson Taillon has the raw stuff to become a frontline starter. He also has the mentality. The 20-year-old Pittsburgh Pirates prospect has an advanced feel for pitching, which is a reason he could reach the big leagues as soon as next year. Drafted second overall in 2010, the 6-foot-6 right-hander finished the season with Double-A Altoona after spending most of it in High-A. In 142 innings, he logged a 3.55 ERA and held opposing hitters to a .230 average. He came in at No. 15 on Baseball America’s mid-season ranking of the game’s top prospects.
Taillon on becoming a complete pitcher: “I’m in that process right now. From what I can tell, it’s kind of a never-ending process. All the way through your career, you can never stop trying to get better, never stop trying to become more of a complete pitcher. When I got drafted, I had a pretty good idea of what to do on the mound — but since then, I’ve taken huge steps.
“This has been the biggest year of my life, baseball-wise, as far as learning the intricacies of the game. I’ve learned a lot about feel and what to do with the ball, and different mentalities of how to set up hitters.
“Coming into the year, I had a pretty good breaking ball and an OK changeup. Obviously, a good fastball. Something I knew I had to get better at was being to spin a breaking ball on 0-0, and being able to put a guy away 0-2. The same goes for a changeup. You need to be able to throw a 2-1 changeup, or a 1-2 changeup. I’ve just come a long way as far knowing the feel for my different pitches and what to do with them — how to create that certain spin and how to get that certain feel with what I want to do with the ball. I feel pretty confident right now that I can throw pretty much any pitch in any count.”
On his curveball: “Throwing it just like your fastball is huge. I’ve learned how to have that same exact fastball delivery — fastball arm speed, slot, everything. Then, being able to drop in that 1-0 curveball, or to be able to throw that 1-2 hammer.
“Generally, I like to consider it a power breaking ball. I don’t call it a 12-6 and I don’t call it a slurve. It used to be more 12-6, but when it was 12-6 I kind of had to manipulate my arm slot a little bit to get the ball to do the 12-6 thing. The 12-6 breaking ball is something a lot of people like to see, and it looks good from the pitcher’s view, but what hitters don’t like to see is the ball coming out of the same arm path, and having a good shape, and having tight spin where it looks just like a fastball. This year I’ve kind of taken away the 12-6 mindset. If you watch [Justin] Verlander and [Stephen] Strasburg throw their curveballs, a lot of people say they’re 12-6, but they’re really not. They can throw it at a guy’s elbow and drop in it for a strike. I’d say that’s more the shape of my curveball.
“When I throw it, I kind of have a feel with my hands, knowing where I want to drop it. I have a feel for the strike breaking ball, and my 0-2 breaking ball. Usually, I’ll pick out a part on my catcher and try to throw it to that spot, and have it do its work from there. Maybe that spot is his mask, or his left shoulder. Maybe it’s the hitter’s elbow.
“Sometimes when my curveball isn’t working, it will back up on me a little bit. I think that’s most people’s problem when their curveball isn’t working. They’re kind of arm-side high. For me, it’s more of a mentality thing. I have to hone that back in and focus on throwing hard out front. Either I’m getting too much on the side of the ball — or under it — and letting it slip out a little early. I’m just not having the right mentality with it. It’s not really even a delivery thing. It’s more of a mentality thing.”
On his fastball: “I recently got my two-seam back, which is key for me from a development standpoint. It’s a good pitch to throw behind in the count, with guys on. When I need a ground ball, it’s there for me. I throw it probably more in the 93-96 [mph] range. It’s not too different velo-wise from my four-seam, and it has some hard down life, with some arm-side run.
“My four-seam, on a regular day, is around 94-98 [mph]. It has some good giddy up through the zone, some good life through the zone. I’ve been told I throw a pretty heavy ball, which is good.
“One of the things I’m learning is that the more I pitch — and the more reps I get — the less I have to try to throw hard. I just do. I’m kind of into my delivery now, and into my arm path and arm speed. I have a power arm. I enjoy throwing hard, but at the same time, I can’t fall in love with trying to throw hard. It has to come, smooth and easy, out of the same delivery. You want it to be effortless. Same thing with the two-seam. You have to just trust it and let it do its thing. You can’t try to overpower it.”
On his changeup: “My changeup could be a big difference-maker for me. I think I have a great fastball-curveball combination that’s pretty rare, but there are a lot of guys out there who have good fastballs and curveballs. To be able to give the hitter a different look, with a changeup, is huge. To be able to throw it in any count is huge, just to make the fastball play up a little more. I already throw hard, but if I can embed a changeup in a hitter’s mind, that makes my fastball play even more.
“The grip is a four-seam circle, although it’s really more like a semi-circle, because it’s not fully closed. You could call it a straight changeup, but when I’m throwing it good, it has a lot of depth to it. It’s a pitch that, before this year, I never really used very much. This year, I got challenged to take a big step with it, and trust it, and throw it. The only way I was going to get better was to throw it. I took that and ran with it. I’m extremely pleased with the progress I’ve made.”
On becoming more consistent: “Consistency will play a big part in me taking that next step. I need to go out there every fifth day and give it a strong effort. I had a stretch where, for four or five starts, I struggled. That just can’t happen. I’m obviously going out there and trying to do my best, but for a couple of starts I kind of let things snowball. I was able to recover and get right back on track, but going forward I have do a better job of eliminating the big innings.
“What helps me is going out and just playing the game, and not over-thinking. If a guy hits a double, I don’t have to try to do more, I can just keep trusting my stuff and put the next guy on the ground. Just because a guy got a hit doesn’t mean I screwed up and have to change everything. I don’t have to rear back. I can stay within myself, have fun, and pitch.”
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