Looking at the numbers, you could say that Jameson Taillon is having a disappointing season. The top prospect in the Pittsburgh Pirates system has a 4.52 ERA in 71.2 innings this year. He’s putting up dominating secondary numbers, with a 9.2 K/9 and a 1.8 BB/9 ratio. Lately he’s seen the bulk of his season struggles, allowing 21 earned runs in his last 22.1 innings over six starts.
When the Pirates drafted Taillon second overall in 2010, they were drafting what many hoped would be the first ace the Pirates have had since Doug Drabek. The numbers that Taillon has put up this year aren’t exactly ace-like, even if we excuse him for the fact that he’s 19 years old and in full season A-ball. However, the numbers don’t tell the story here. When it comes to Taillon, there is no question that he has the potential to be in the majors one day. In fact, barring any injuries, it would be a huge surprise if doesn’t make the majors.
I spoke with an American League scout about Taillon earlier this year, and got a great review. The scout called Taillon’s curveball the best in the game. Not the South Atlantic League. Not minor league baseball. All of baseball. If you’ve ever seen Taillon’s curveball, you’d agree that the pitch has to at least be up there. It’s a major league pitch already, and is making low-A hitters look foolish. Taillon sets up the curveball with his fastball, which has been sitting around 94-96 MPH this year, and has reached 98-99 MPH in the past.
So why is a pitcher with a mid-to-upper 90s fastball and one of the best, if not the best, curveballs in baseball getting hit so hard in low-A?
The answer comes from the same AL scout. Taillon’s biggest issue is that he has trouble throwing strikes at the knees. That’s something the Pirates have been addressing. I’ve mentioned many times about how they’ve been trying to remove a hop in his delivery, which is causing him to elevate the ball in the zone. Taillon has a drop and drive approach, which makes it hard for him to drive the ball down through the zone. Instead, he leaves the ball on one plane, usually waist to chest high, making it easier for hitters to see, and easier for hitters to drive.
We saw that last year when Taillon was getting hit around on occasion by high school hitters. We’ve seen that this year, with his 1.1 HR/9 ratio, his 75 hits in 71.2 innings, and more recently, his five homers and 30 hits allowed in his last 22.1 innings. Taillon has great stuff, but a 96 MPH fastball is going to get hit if you leave it up, and the curveball isn’t as effective without the fastball.
The biggest thing the Pirates have been working on with Taillon this year, other than getting him stretched out, has been getting him to drive the ball down through the zone. They have been working on some minor adjustments to his delivery to accomplish this. If Taillon was left to his own delivery, there’s no doubt that he could put up some strong numbers in low-A. However, down the road, that might limit him with what he can do in the majors. Taillon has been taking a bit off his fastball this year, and focusing on driving the ball down through the zone. By driving it down through the zone, it crosses different planes, making the ball harder to pick up from opposing hitters.
The difference for Taillon could be huge. With an upper 90s fastball and one of the best curveballs in the game, Taillon has what it takes to get by in the majors. However, with an upper 90s fastball that’s being driven down in the zone, Taillon becomes one of the best pitchers in the game. That allows him to cut down his hits allowed, home runs, and sets up his curveball perfectly. If he can make the successful change away from the drop and drive delivery, he could have one of the best 1-2 punches in the game. As we’re seeing right now with his low-A numbers, that’s going to be rough right now, but it could lead to some pretty impressive numbers one day at a level where it really matters: the majors.