RIGHT HANDED PITCHER
Born: November 18, 1991
Height: 6′ 6″
Drafted: 1st Round, 2nd Overall, 2010
How Acquired: Draft
High School: The Woodlands HS (The Woodlands, TX)
Agent: Hendricks Brothers
WTM’S PIRATE PLAYER PROFILES
|The Pirates selected Taillon with the second pick in the draft. It became clear long before draft day that the Nationals would use the first pick to take Bryce Harper, leaving the bulk of draft speculation focused on the Pirates’ pick. Taillon was almost universally viewed as the second best talent in the draft, a little ahead of high school shortstop Manny Machado and well ahead of everybody else. Early on, most observers believed the Pirates would select a lower-ceiling (and cheaper) college pitcher, either one of two lefthanders (Drew Pomeranz and Chris Sale) or righthander Deck McGuire. This speculation seemed to come from mediots who were unable to draw distinctions between the current administration and that of Dave Littlefield, who would undoubtedly have taken a college pitcher. Ultimately, the choice came down to Taillon and Machado, with the two college lefties as possible fallbacks. The selection of Taillon ran counter to GM Neal Huntington’s oft-stated reservations about selecting high school pitchers in round one, an indication that the Pirates consider Taillon’s ceiling to be high enough to justify the risk.
Taillon’s offerings have been widely discussed on the internet. His fastball sits in the 92-96 range and has reached 98. He throws a hard curve with a big break that is considered a second plus pitch. His slider needs more work and he hasn’t had to throw a changeup much. Like most HS pitchers, he’ll have to work on the latter. Some concerns arose about Taillon when he got hit hard in a couple starts early in the HS season, something that generally doesn’t happen to pitchers with his stuff facing HS hitters. He sometimes gets his fastball up, which probably accounts for the five HRs, which is more than you’d expect to be hit off a pitcher with his talent. The concerns seemed to evaporate late in the season, though, as Taillon drew frequent comparisons to Josh Beckett. Some commentators, such as Baseball America and Perfectgame, consider him among the best HS pitching prospects ever, with BA rating him the 17th best draft prospect of the past twenty years. His ceiling is that of a number one starter, potential that the Pirates lack at the major or minor league level.
Signing Taillon figured to be a tough task. Unlike Machado, he’s not represented by Scott Boras, but by the Hendricks Brothers. They’re no easier to deal with than Boras, however, and Taillon had a scholarship to perennial NCAA power Rice. As it turned out, the Pirates signed him on deadline day for a bonus of $6.5M. He signed too late to pitch in the minors in 2010, but instead went to fall instructional league.
Taillon opened the season in extended spring training, but made a much-ballyhooed debut with West Virginia in late April. He spent the season in the rotation, with strict pitch counts designed to keep his innings down. He pitched mostly as expected, except that his fastball at times was surprisingly hittable. Opponents hit .249 against him with nine HRs, which is good but not dominant. The problem seemed to stem largely from Taillon getting pitches up, which was a concern in HS. His curve was mostly unhittable, but he generally didn’t throw it a lot in order to focus on fastball command. His velocity was mid-90s, as advertised. His other offerings still need some work. Although it wasn’t overwhelming, most observers seemed to consider his debut season a success.
Taillon had a puzzling season at Bradenton. He got off to a strong start, posting a 1.69 ERA in the first month, with more than a strikeout per inning. After that, his ERA at Bradenton was 4.39 and his K rate dropped substantially. He didn’t allow all that many baserunners, but when he got hit he tended to get hit hard, and all at once. He maintained his mid-90s fastball and excellent curve, and according to at least some sources his change was good at times. There was no shortage of attempts to discern the problem. The usual explanations were that either the team had him heavily focused on fastball command or that he tried to throw the ball by hitters whenever he got in a tough spot. The Pirates promoted him to Altoona for three starts anyway and he dominated there.
Taillon returned to Altoona and made 19 starts there plus one relief appearance, then moved up to Indianapolis for his final six starts. The results were somewhat similar to 2012, as he usually got good results and drew rave reviews from scouts, but didn’t put up the sort of playstation numbers that fans expect from top prospects. At times, Taillon struggled a little with his control and at times he seemed a little too hittable. His velocity, however, sat consistently in the mid-90s, topping out in the upper-90s, and scouts gave very high marks to his curve. His changeup also continued to improve, which was reflected in the fact that he had no platoon split at all. Overall he was a flyball pitcher. Taillon’s failure to put up awe-inspiring numbers repeats the pattern that occurred with Gerrit Cole, whose minor league performance raised even more questions that Taillon’s. After watching Cole rapidly improve in his first partial major league season, I’m inclined to chalk both up to the learning process in the minors, which with the Pirates emphasizes development and preparation for the majors more than results in the minors.
It was widely anticipated that Taillon would follow the same path to the majors as Gerrit Cole did in 2013, but that journey got derailed when he had elbow soreness during spring training. After getting two opinions, he decided to have Tommy John surgery.
Taillon remains the Pirates’ top pitching prospect and was listed among the top handful of pitching prospects overall by the usual prospect sources during the off-season. Given the success rate of the procedure, the odds are high that Taillon will return in 2015 and end up having more or less the same career he would have had anyway. It hurt the Pirates in 2014, though, and he’ll probably take longer to get to the majors in 2015 than he would have in 2014. He’s now eligible for the Rule 5 draft and will be added to the 40-man roster in the off-season.
|2015: Minor League Contract|
|Signing Bonus: $6,500,000
MiLB Debut: 2011
MLB Debut: N/A
MiLB FA Eligible: 2016
MLB FA Eligible: N/A
Rule 5 Eligible: Eligible
Added to 40-Man: N/A
Options Remaining: 3
MLB Service Time: 0.000
|June 7, 2010: Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1st round, 2nd overall pick; signed on August 16.|