Much like a kid on Christmas Eve, Pirate draftophiles are anxiously awaiting Monday’s first round to see who the Pirates select first overall. That player will be scrutinized, dissected, and analyzed like a frog in 8th grade biology class. He will become the next great Pirate prospect. But have we forgotten that we are all living in the year 1 A.T. (After Taillon)?
It’s easy to get enamored with a new player. The unofficial name for it is Shiny New Toy Syndrome. That new guy is so great! Look at his stats! I’m going to dream about him starting Game 1 of the 2013 season for us right now! But don’t forget that Jameson Taillon was probably the Pirates most highly regarded 1st round pick since Kris Benson at 1-1 in 1996. It’s easy to forget after his lackluster career, but Benson was thought to be the greatest college pitcher prospect before Mark Prior and, subsequently, Stephen Strasburg came along to take that title away from him. Taillon is certainly the Pirates most highly regarded high school draftee in recent Pirate history, perhaps since the advent of the draft.
Last May, Jim Callis of Baseball America ranked the 20 greatest draft prospects since he joined the magazine in 1989. Taillon placed 17th on that list. It’s safe to say that Taillon is good and will be good. The only point of discussion seems to be “how good”. Jim Callis followed up THIS May by saying in the May 23rd Ask BA column that Dylan Bundy is better than Jameson Taillon because Bundy has more developed 3rd and 4th pitches. So now Bundy is The Greatest High School Pitcher and Taillon is getting tossed to the side like the chemistry set you opened before the bike on Christmas.
But how is our “chemistry set” doing in his first year as a pro? Through 8 starts (including his rain shortened debut), Taillon has pitched 34 innings, given up 36 hits, walked only 4, and struck out 27. His batting average against is .273, his ERA is 3.71, and his ground ball rate is 43.4%, as per Statcorner.com. Those stats, superficially, are good but not great. But keep in mind how regimented the Pirates are with young pitchers. Taillon has an overall inning count this year of 90 to 110. He has a pitch count per game of 80 and a single inning pitch count of 30. He is in the middle of the Fastball Academy program that is a cornerstone of Jim Benedict’s program.
Right now, Taillon is learning to become a pro. He’s pitching every fifth day. He’s trusting his defense to make plays behind him. He’s finding out that being 6′-6″ with a 96 mph fastball does not guarantee you anything in minor league ball. You need more and he’s refining his 3rd pitch, the changeup, which he didn’t need to use in high school because he was so dominant with his fastball and curveball.
Fellow staff writer John Dreker and I were discussing Taillon over NerdMail a couple of days ago and John mentioned that he was pleasantly surprised by Taillon’s progress through the system. He remarked that the Pirates are so conservative with placing high school pitchers in full-season ball (see Von Rosenburg, Cain, Dodson, et al last year in State College) that seeing Taillon debut April 27th was a shock. John thought it would be at least mid-May before we saw Taillon at West Virginia. John also feels that his to-date stats are where he thought they would be at this point of his trajectory.
In 2012, the reins will be loosened a little bit on Taillon as he moves up to High A. It’s quite possible that if things go well at High A he may see some time at Double A in 2012 as a 20 year old. So come Monday, try to tune out the hype of Bundy, Archie Bradley, and Taylor Guerrieri and remember that Jameson Taillon is the property of the Pittsburgh Pirates and is pretty darn special, too. Sometimes a chemistry set can be a pretty good gift.