Scouting Comparison: Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon

This will be the first in a series of articles that compares prospects by walking, step-by-step, through their scouting reports, culminating in my personal recommendation about which prospect is the better bet to reach their ceiling and help your team in the big leagues.

In this first installment I will tackle two Pittsburgh Pirates prospects who many within the industry consider number one and number one “a”  in the club’s system. Right-handers Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon are the Pirates two most recent first round draft picks, having been selected in 2011 and 2010, respectively. Cole made his way to the Pirates after spurning the Yankees as a first round pick in 2008 while Taillon chose to sign straight out of high school nearly two years ago. The Pirates’ cumulative investment in their top two prospects is a whopping $14.5 million.

Both Cole and Taillon offer exceptional size that is the foundation for their profile as top prospects. Taillon’s body (6-6, 225) is extremely mature for his age and he has an advanced feel for controlling his body in space, giving him surprisingly repeatable mechanics for a player of his age and size. Cole has thickened his frame (6-4, 220) since high school while also cleaning up his delivery and becoming more consistent mechanically.

While both players have the ability to generate angle to the plate, Taillon’s plane is more dramatic and more consistent due to his height and higher arm slot. Cole has an occasional tendency to lower his slot and lose angle on his pitches.

Moving away from the basics of how they deliver the ball to the plate, I now want to focus on the meat of their scouting reports, starting first with their individual pitches.

Fastball
Let’s not kid ourselves here. We’re talking about two pitchers with fastballs that earn consistent “sevens” from scouts.

Cole’s fastball will occasionally earn the vaunted “eight” or “80” grade and he should sit with an elite fastball over the long term. He consistently pumped 95-97 mph heat at UCLA last year and continued that in the fall instructional league, while touching triple digits regularly. Cole loves using his fastball and relishes big numbers on the radar gun. He gets caught overthrowing frequently and his fastball has a tendency to lose life when he reaches back for an extra tick. That said his fastball is so explosive that hitters have a tough time catching up to him and he can blow it by people regularly.

With Taillon, the fastball sits consistently in the plus-plus range, showing 94-96 mph and rarely showing more than that in his starts. He stays within himself and when he shows 97 or 98 mph it looks more natural than Cole. Scouts that saw Taillon throughout the summer were surprised at the fluctuation in his velocity, as he showed the big time stuff at times but also showed 91-92 mph heat during his starts. It would be easy to project Taillon to have sustained and peak velocity comparable to Cole but you have to wonder just how much more he has in him physically. It seems a stretch to believe that a 6-6, 225 pound, 20-year-old really has all that much growing left to do. To me, it seems more reasonable to suggest that any remaining growth with Taillon’s fastball comes in the form of sustained plus-plus velocity rather than peaking with elite velocity.

In a comparison of this nature it is difficult to argue with either of the fastballs presented. Personally, I have more faith in the explosion and elite velocity of Cole than I do the projection of Taillon’s ability to sustain a mid- to upper-90s fastball.

Breaking Ball
Yet again both Taillon and Cole feature impressive pitches here, though they remain very different in their construction and movement.

Taillon is the proud owner of a classic power pitcher’s curveball. He imparts outstanding overhand spin on the ball, allowing it to be a true 12-6 hammer. Similar to his fastball, the curveball has excellent plane approaching the plate and the outstanding depth on the pitch makes it a true swing and miss offering. Taillon doesn’t always trust his curve and will get caught shying away from it at times. When he throws it consistently it will show as a plus to plus-plus pitch and should sit comfortably in that range once fully developed.

Scouts that saw Taillon in 2011 didn’t regularly see the slider he showed in high school. Even when he did throw the slider it wasn’t better than a fringe-average pitch and likely won’t be a significant part of his arsenal moving forward.

The lower arm slot featured by Cole lends much better to the slider than the classic overhand curve that Taillon throws, and he takes full advantage of that with a filthy two-plane slider. He generally keeps his fingers on top of the ball as he delivers it and has the strength to give it plenty of snap. At its best, Cole’s slider is positively devastating with short but sharp downward bite and excellent horizontal break. The vast majority of scouts I spoke to last year gave Cole’s slider anything but a “70” as a future grade.

I love Cole’s slider and believe it could be a dominating pitch in the big leagues, but I’m also admittedly a sucker for an old school hammer that can be a true knee buckler. Though it requires more projection than Cole’s slider, I give the slight edge to Taillon’s curveball as the better breaking ball long term.

Change-up
For both players the change-up is the distant third pitch in the arsenal. Cole worked hard on a change-up while at UCLA and though it remains generally fringe-average, it will flash as a plus offering on occasion. He maintains good arm speed when throwing his change-up, adding to its deception, and also coaxes some sink and fade out of the pitch. Scouts did consistently note that Cole has a tendency to overthrow his change and he doesn’t always seem to trust it in tight spots.

Taillon didn’t need a change-up in high school and only began working on the pitch in earnest after signing with the Pirates. He picked it up quickly and while it clearly remains his third best pitch, he has showed some aptitude for it. When he trusts his grip and lets it fly he can show at least an average one now and could have better than that if it really comes along.

Neither player’s success is going to be made or lost on the back of their change-up. If either of them can consistently feature an average or better change-up then that will cement them as potential All-Star starters. I am tempted to give the nod to Taillon’s change-up simply because of the better touch and feel he shows for pitching and the belief in his ability to “get it” with the pitch. Despite that, I believe the velocity separation and dramatic development of Cole’s change-up over the last two years gives him the edge.

Command/Control
The touch and feel for pitching that I just discussed with Taillon really comes into play here. For his age he has an advanced feel for pitching, including an ability to move all of his pitches around the strike zone. He showed an aptitude for pushing his fastball to the outside corner routinely and though he didn’t do it consistently in 2011, at times he showed that he could also run his fastball on the inside corner to keep hitters honest. The ease with which Taillon repeats his delivery and the cleanliness of his arm action make his command extremely projectable and scouts were comfortable going as high as plus future command.

Cole is more of a pitcher than he was when the Yankees first drafted him, but he still lacks refined command. Though his delivery has improved, the effort that still exists makes it hard for him to locate throughout the zone. He showed in 2011 that he could throw strikes routinely, something that was a positive step forward. Outside of some minor improvements to his release and half a tick of additional command, Cole doesn’t project to move much beyond the control pitcher he is right now. To his credit, the explosiveness of his fastball and slider don’t necessitate pinpoint command.

Though Taillon’s command projection is far more dream than reality right now, you have to give him the edge for at least having the projection for plus command. Both pitchers will fill the strike zone throughout their careers, but the potential ability to locate to all four quadrants of the strike zone gives Taillon the leg up here.

Miscellaneous
Both pitchers offer a solid feel for the secondary aspects of pitching, things like fielding their position and holding runners. They should continue to improve in both areas with additional experience. Neither has truly grasped the art of sequencing at this time, as both will rely on ramping up their fastballs to get out of jams rather than setting hitters up and inducing weak swings or contact. One knock Cole has received from scouts is the emotion he shows on the mound. It goes beyond fiery competitiveness to the point of wearing it all on his sleeve and at times allowing his emotions to get the better of him during games.

The Pick
Major League organizations would relish the opportunity to have either of these pitchers as part of their system. While talk has existed that suggests both Cole and Taillon have true ace potential, I am not of the opinion that both have a chance at such a lofty and often overused ceiling. Cole’s electricity and the presence of two 70-grade offerings with a third potential plus pitch gives him the look of a potential number one starter. While Taillon’s ceiling is considerable, I believe he falls a tick short of that threshold and has more of a really nice number two starter ceiling.

If given the choice between Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon, I take Cole nearly every time and hope he fulfills his considerable potential.




Print This Post



Mark is the Founder and Head Scout for BaseballProspectNation.com and the Managing Editor for TigsTown.com. You can follow him on Twitter @BPN_Mark.

25 Responses to “Scouting Comparison: Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. Matty Brown says:

    Love this article. Hope to see many more in this vein. Even if you compare cross-organizational prospects.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. MustBunique says:

    Nice piece, Mark. While I was reading, I was getting the feeling that you would say Taillon would make the better MLB starter because of his repeatable delivery, “feel” for pitching, and the touch and feel that Taillon shows for his third pitch. Your pick of Cole tells me that his fastball must truly be elite and I look forward to seeing him throw it. Any chance we see him as a September call-up?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • If we’re talking better MLB starter, I’ll take Cole every time, as I said. I do think Taillon could have a better feel for the “art” of pitching. I think he’ll have more nuance to his game than Cole.

      I’d give it a slim chance Cole gets a September look. If he starts in Bradenton, that’d be a pretty aggressive push for a guy that does have some refinements to make. There’s no rush with him. He won’t be the difference between making the playoffs or not this year.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Jason says:

    Taillon should have some more “filling out” to do into his mid-20s. Possibly a lean 240 is his eventual landing spot. There’s no reason to believe that the increased mass will result in increased velocity, but it should bode well for maintaing velocity throughout the game.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • This is something often said, and it never makes any sense.

      Bigger people tend to be stronger, but they do not tend to have more endurance, in fact it’s the reverse. If two guys of the same height use the “effort” or strain to deliver a pitch of the same velocity, it is the thinner player who actually uses fewer calories, as is more likely to be able to sustain that effort for a longer period.

      Now, if you have one guy who can throw 98, but is comfortable throwing 92, compared to a guy who throws 98 as his normal velocity, then the first guy is making extra effort, and it will be difficult to sustain that throughout a game.

      But do not confuse thickness of body with better endurance. Only in baseball is that myth perpetuated, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. yosoyfiesta says:

    Nice article Mark, looking forward to watching this kid throw the fastball against major league hitters.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. Eric Cioe says:

    I wish that somewhere in the glossary of this site was a breakdown of what a scout would grade known quantities. What does an 80 fastball look like? Verlander? What does a 60 fastball look like? Matt Cain? What does a 70 changeup look like? Etc. This would make potential ratings easier to understand.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Randy says:

    I really enjoyed reading this comparison. It was very informative and easy to understand for those not familiar with the scouting “lingo.”

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. K says:

    Bauer versus Skaggs!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. Justin says:

    Mark,

    Do you think the Pirates controlled Taillon too much last year with him never throwing more than 75 pitches and only 92.2 innings total? Or do you think it was wise considering it was his first professional season and he was drafted out of HS?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • A 75-pitch limit for first-year high school draft picks is not uncommon across baseball, though that limit is typically a little looser in many organizations. There was no give and take with Taillon’s limit — 75 pitches and he was done, game situation be damned.

      There’s no tried and true method for developing a pitching prospect, and given the Pirates past difficulties in this department, I suppose you can’t fault them for an extremely cautious approach.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. johnorpheus says:

    Interesting, your conclusion does not seem to match your analysis.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Shubbs says:

      I agree. Reading the article, I was thinking Taillon would project as the better prospect. I also like the fact that Taillon is younger, and they are both in Bradenton now.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. John says:

    “advanced feel for controlling his body in space”

    Shake my head.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. Waka Flocka Flame says:

    Harper v. Rendon…I’m assuming that will be coming?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Harper v. Rendon isn’t in the queue. It wouldn’t be a real close comparison considering we’re talking about a generational talent versus “just” a really nice prospect.

      I do plan to do a Rendon v. Arenado piece at some point, as I believe that could draw some discussion and surprise some people.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. karreemofwheat says:

    thanks for the work.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. Eddie Bajek says:

    Jacob Turner vs. Trever Feeney!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. Joe Gerard says:

    Really good analysis, Mark. I am a big fan of Cole’s change-up. His arm speed is excellent, and I think he will develop this into a real wipeout, K weapon.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  15. Homer says:

    Hultzen vs. Paxton vs. Walker?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current day month ye@r *