Jameson Taillon: Better Than The Numbers

Taillon has been hit hard this year, but his stuff is much better than the numbers indicate.

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.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • F Lang

    It is interesting that Tallion and Geritt Cole are our #1 @ #2 prospects because they have similar stories: dominant stuff with mixed results. As soon as they learn to keep their stuff down and limit the big inning it will be fun to watch what they can do. You don’t like to see the 4.52 era but I still see no reason why Tallion won’t be in AA at some point next year and in AAA in 2013. I saw some 2012 timelines for Tallion in the majors but those were ridiculous. He still is on pace to have his first full season in the majors as a 22 year old and will probably even get substantial innings as a 21 year old in the majors. What more can you ask for? Even more exciting is he and Cole will be on similar timelines.

  • http://twitter.com/sprtsjunkie703 Jon Pennline

    When I saw Taillon in May, his curveball looked absolutely devastating.  He threw a lot of first pitch fastballs down the middle which resulted in a monster home run.  The stuff is good though.  He’s big with a smooth delivery which could prevent serious arm injuries.  I cant wait until he’s in Pittsburgh.

  • Anonymous

    Taillon is the real deal. No question. He is also one of the best young men on the planet. He has a very strong work ethic, and will continue to excel both physically and mentally. The most difficult part of this game is learning to deal with failure. The Pirates do not want to see Taillon dominate every time out, they would actually like to see him struggle at times and see how he reacts to failure. That is the true test of when a baseball player is ready to move up. From what I have seen, he is handling himself well and continues to work hard and learn. Low A baseball is developmental baseball….results are not a big concern. What is most important is that the young men get better mentally and physically each time out. Taillon and some of the other Bucs Prospects are doing that quite well this year.

  • Lee Young

    Tim……..great stuff…….that’s the kind of reporting you don’t get ‘in the papers’.

  • Anonymous

    Tim, I wonder if Rick Porcello might be a good example?

    Here was a guy who came out of HS and dominated the minors and was rushed up to the majors. He had a decent rookie year with a 3.96era but his last two years the numbers are poor although he has had winning records.

    Maybe the Tigers should have taken a good look at his pitching and seen if it would play at the ML level the way the Pirates are doing with Taillon. 

  • Anonymous

    Tim, I wonder if Rick Porcello might be a good example?

    Here was a guy who came out of HS and dominated the minors and was rushed up to the majors. He had a decent rookie year with a 3.96era but his last two years the numbers are poor although he has had winning records.

    Maybe the Tigers should have taken a good look at his pitching and seen if it would play at the ML level the way the Pirates are doing with Taillon. 

  • Anonymous

    I like the approach the pirates are taking with Taillon and the rest of the WV staff. I know its easy to look and say “hey these guys are bums they are getting shelled” but what is happening is that these kids are learning how to pitch not throw. Sure, like Tim said, he could continue to pitch they way he always has and that would be fine but when he gets to the majors it could be the difference with him being an ace or him being a #4-#5 starter or a reliever…..I think Von Rosenberg and Taillon will both be in Bradenton next season to start the year. I haven’t given up on ZVR yet because I think this season will toughen him up a lot and he has had success his last few starts…