Scouting Jameson Taillon

Jameson Taillon has been considered one of the top pitching prospects in the minors since signing with the Pirates for $6.5 million as the second overall pick in the 2010 draft.  What I’ve seen has matched the hype, but he does have some things to work on.  I scouted Taillon in a short spring training outing and two full outings with the Pirates Hi-A affiliate in Bradenton.  I’ll have notes on the rest of the Bradenton squad coming soon.

***

Fastball – 65/70

Taillon consistently sits at 94-96, hitting 98 mph with flashes of above-average armside movement and solid-average command.  He keeps his velocity deep into starts and he doesn’t effort much to produce his plus-plus velocity.  However, his command will waver at times and he’ll leave some pitches up.  Taillon has some length to his arm action and it causes his arm to be late catching up with his body.  His arm isn’t always at the same juncture of the arm swing at foot plant and this helps cause some command issues.

His longer arm action also makes it easier for hitters to time him as they can see the ball very clearly throughout his delivery.  Taillon is around the zone a lot, so in clear fastball counts, some hitters can guess the heater is coming and gear up to hit it.  This is part of the reason why his strikeout numbers are lower than expected right now and he’ll go through spells where he gives up more hard contact that you’d expect.

Curveball – 60/70

When his fastball and curve are both working and he’s mixing two plus-plus pitches, Hi-A hitters don’t stand a chance.  In spring training, Taillon struggled to find consistent shape for this pitch, getting around it and often getting 10-to-4 tilt and slider break.  In the second outing I saw, he had no feel for his curveball and put it away early on, relying on his changeup to keep hitters off his heater.  In the third outing, it was a devastating hammer that he commands with 11-to-5 tilt and curveball break at slider speed (84-86 mph).  Taillon can bury it as a chase pitch or throw it for a strike — one scout next to me compared it to Ben Sheets’ curveball.  The inconsistency of this pitch also contributes to Taillon’s good not great dominance numbers but his hook was its best in my most recent look.

Changeup – 45/55

Taillon didn’t throw any changeups in the spring outing, threw a number of solid ones at 83-86 mph in the second outing and in the most recent outing, threw the pitch at 86-90 mph.  The pitch doesn’t come naturally to him, as Taillon is a power pitcher trying to learn a finesse pitch.  He doesn’t get consistent action on the pitch, at times showing traditional sink and fade to his arm side and cutting more often when thrown to the glove side.  He creates good deception with consistent arm speed and shows enough feel for the pitch at times to see it as a consistently above-average pitch down the road.

Command – 40/50

I have some slight concerns with Taillon’s delivery but nothing serious.  Pitcher mechanics are a bit of a black box as far as injuries go, so I try to stay away from absolutes, but his arm action is longer than you’d like and his elbow gets a little higher in the back than you’d like as well.  There isn’t an injury history to point to, so I’m just pointing out that he isn’t picture perfect and there is some risk here, but no red flags.

Taillon’s has a slight spinoff to first base created by a slightly off-center stride (not a concern) that gets more pronounced when his timing is off and his command wanders.  There are some small delivery tweaks that can help with these issues but Taillon is a rare arm and his success will come based on how well he can repeat his delivery and command his rare stuff — the rest is just window dressing.

Outlook

My last scouting report was on Dylan Bundy, and I’d slot Taillon just behind him, both with #1 starter upside but Bundy having a better chance to reach it.  While Bundy is smaller, he shows better feel, a quieter delivery and a cleaner arm action. Beyond his plus-plus fastball-cutter combination, Bundy has a plus curve and above-average change with a chance at above-average command.  There’s more feel, a deeper repertoire and a chance to show hitters varied looks.

For reference, I spent draft season seeing amateur players for ESPN and saw top right-handers Kevin Gausman (LSU/Orioles pick), Mark Appel (Stanford/Pirates pick) and Lance McCullers (Tampa high school/Astros signee), ranking them in that order.  I’d take Bundy and Taillon over all three.

Taillon still has a nonzero chance for a plus changeup and above-average command but I think he’ll come up short in both regards and be more of a #2 starter if he makes all the realistic adjustments.  This is nothing to sneeze at, as most scouts have a strict definition with eight to twelve #1 starters at a given time, a small group that some scouts only recently let Matt Cain into, to give an example.  Taillon may tweak his delivery, pick up a cutter or slower version of his curveball down the road to enable him to give varied looks and speeds to reach his #1 potential but is still an elite prospect if he doesn’t.




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Kiley McDaniel has worked in the scouting departments of the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates and has written for ESPN, among other outlets. Follow him on twitter for real-time thoughts on the players he’s seeing and hacky attempts at humor.


14 Responses to “Scouting Jameson Taillon”

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  1. jcxy says:

    just curious… when you refer to clean arm action, what is that code for? is that a visual feel thing, a mechanics thing, something else?

    who is a major leaguer who is a good example of good arm action vs bad arm action?

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  2. CabreraDeath says:

    Thanks for the write-up, Kiley. Good stuff all around.

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  3. d_i says:

    this is a bit of a name drop, but for what it’s worth: I sat behind the plate at the futures game and got to talking with a scoutting director (it was an awesome experience for me) who wasn’t impressed with Taillon at all and thought he was vastly overrated – didn’t get into specifics as to the reason(s) but thought I’d share.

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    • byron says:

      Why was the scouting director there? Is it possible he was sandbagging a prospect he was trying desperately to get?

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      • d_i says:

        I would assume to scout prospects. Perhaps, but I don’t know why he’d feel the need to do that with a random fan – it’s not like I work for the Pirates. He was pretty up-front with me about a lot of things and I took him at his word.

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    • baty says:

      He’s been a MLB body for a while now, and I think it’s going to take facing stronger competition to get a better feel for what he is. That’s certainly a quality of his that people tend to drool over while kind of overlooking his pitching flaws.

      If a scout is saying something like that about a player like him at this stage of his career, it sounds to me like there’s some sort of bias getting in the way. In the end, Taillon could become a Billingsley-like disappointment, but there’s still plenty to be impressed with.

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  4. DD says:

    Any word on why he doesn’t currently use a cutter? I guess they want him to keep trying the changeup, and if he ends up scrapping it he’d go with a cutter and/or two seamer for a movement variety vs. a speed variety?

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  5. joel says:

    I would take that scouts comment with a grain of salt. Taillon is a better prospect than Cole and Heredia maybe better than either of them. Heredia is 2-3 years younger that players he goes up against at State College.

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  6. henry says:

    anyone who needs convincing about taillon’s stuff? just look at that last curveball, 2:30. http://www.maxpreps.com/video/watch.aspx#!videoid=b41ad0a1-8fe0-40a3-9437-4f5e36feedfd

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  7. Kyle H says:

    Bundy also throws a cutter, which they are apparently not letting him throw this year, but he might in the future?

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  8. Stine says:

    This makes him sound like A.J. Burnett to me, or at least that’s who he could become.

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