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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.

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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.