Sometimes, you just can’t please everyone. With the 2nd pick of the 2010 draft, the Pittsburgh Pirates selected Jameson Taillon, who many compared favorably to Josh Beckett at this stage of their careers. That, of course, causes expectations to skyrocket, and as one of the most polished high school arms in recent memory, people expected him to move quickly. As of today, he remains in Low-A. What happened?
Nothing, really, has happened. The Pirates decided to take a conservative approach with the young right-hander, and he has only pitched 80 innings due to strict innings and pitch limits. If the Pirates were the Rays, they would be applauded for their patient approach with young pitchers, but for whatever reason, the Pirates are being criticized. Part of it is that the Pirates don’t have a good history of developing young arms, and part of it is the high expectations for Taillon. He was supposed to move quickly, and he hasn’t budged, yet. And it doesn’t help that the one thing the Pirates really need is top-of-the-rotation starter. But when we sit back and think of Taillon and what’s best for him, the Pirates seem to be doing him a favor.
The last part of why people are disappointed is the 4.52 ERA. Here’s why no one should worry. One, he’s pitched 79.2 innings and struck out 80, and in that same time span, he’s walked 17. That’s good for a 9 K/9 and 2 BB/9, which is outstanding as it demonstrates stuff (all the whiffs) and beyond-his-years control (the low walk total). Two, Pirates GM Neil Huntington admitted to holding Taillon back a little by making him focus on his fastball command, which means Taillon has thrown way more fastballs than normal. That’s made him easier to hit, but it has improved his fastball command while taking some stress of his joints by not throwing so many breaking balls. Finally, Low-A defenses are terrible. Not only do they make more errors (which wouldn’t hurt his ERA), but they don’t convert as many balls in play into outs, which does hurt his ERA. Don’t worry.
Taillon is still incredibly talented. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and has hit 98 and 99 a few times, and it has some sink to it. His curveball may be just as good a pitch, and he adds a pretty good slider. He hasn’t used these as much this season, but he’ll develop them more once he reaches AA. Though these three pitches are excellent, Taillon has work to do with that change-up. It has improved but needs work as he climbs the ladder, which shouldn’t be much of an issue. Mechanically, it’s easy to see where he gets the power, but there are a ton of moving parts, which hurt his command (why he's working on that now). With a high leg kick, Taillon drops into a “drop-and-drive” delivery in which his back knee bends substantially, literally “dropping” him, in order to “drive” better off the mound. This gives him incredible power as he fully utilizes his lower body, and coupled with a 6’6 and 225 pound frame, Taillon looks a workhorse in the making.
By the time all is said and done, Taillon could be an ace, but it may take longer than expected. The Pirates are playing it safe with him, and I wouldn’t expect to see him before 2013. I wonder if the Pirates would put him in the Arizona Fall League to give him a few more innings against more experienced players. If he did well, he would add enough innings to be around 100, and they could place him in AA to start next season. If he didn’t, he could simply be promoted to High-A. Either way, it looks fine for Taillon. At age 19 (20 in November), he doesn’t need to throw 200+ innings. Throwing 100 this season, he can go to 130-140 next season, and he’ll be ready for 160-170 in 2013 and 200 in 2014 as a 22-year old. I understand that Pirates and prospect fans want to see Taillon move quickly and to have sexy statistics, but the Pirates are doing their due diligence. There’s absolutely nothing to worry about.
Has there really been that much criticism of Taillon's performance this year outside of impatient Pirate fans? Baseball America still had him ranked like 9th or 11th on their mid-season prospects list. The Pirates have rolled all of their high school arms out really slowly under Huntington (most of the rest of the staff in West Virginia was made up of high school guys drafted in 2009), so I wouldn't really read much into his spending the whole year at West Virginia. I'd guess he'll move quicker in the future, should his performance warrant it.
What I've seen is a lot of the big scouting guys making reassuring remarks regarding Taillon, which indicates to me that there are some people who are somewhat worried. I don't think anyone is majorly worried, but I do believe a lot of people are asking questions about him. @whygavs