Jameson Taillon made his pro debut last year in West Virginia, throwing 92.2 innings in his rookie season. The second overall pick of the 2010 draft had decent numbers, with a 3.98 ERA, a 9.4 K/9, and a 2.1 BB/9 ratio, but he wasn’t exactly dominating hitters. In two starts so far with Bradenton this year, Taillon has been dominant, putting up a 3.12 ERA and a 12:2 K/BB ratio in 8.2 innings.
Coming in to his second year as a pro, Taillon knew what to expect a little bit more, and that allowed him to prepare during the off-season.
“We tailored my off-season routine a little bit,” Taillon said. “I have a really good workout facility I go to with a bunch of big league guys. We focused a lot more on stability work this year, and a lot of core work. Cause towards the end of the season last year I felt like it wasn’t really in my results that it showed, but I just felt a little tired throughout my core. Core, hips, back. So we worked on that really hard. We hit the legs really hard, just cause it’s a long season. Those are the first things to go.”
The bulk of Taillon’s work over the off-season was with a focus on being more athletic in his delivery.
“I’ve got a good arm, my arm works,” Taillon said. “We’re just figuring out ways to help me get to my backside, and stay tall. I’m not sitting as much as I used to, and that’s starting to become a lot more comfortable.”
The right-hander has what is known as a drop and drive delivery. He will take a big step to the mound, then his back knee will drop down, followed by his delivery to the plate. There are critics of the delivery. One issue is that it causes pitchers to elevate the ball. That’s been a problem for Taillon in the past. He was hit harder in high school than a guy with a 99 MPH fastball and a major league curveball should be hit. Last year in West Virginia he gave up an 8.6 H/9 ratio and a 0.9 HR/9 ratio.
Another issue with the drop and drive delivery, this one being the serious issue, is that it can lead to injuries, specifically with the rotator cuff. The drop and drive causes a pitcher to lower his body and push off the rubber, relying more on his arm to add momentum to the throw, as opposed to a standard delivery, where pitchers get most of their momentum from their stride.
Pitchers have had success with the drop and drive delivery in the past. Tom Seaver is the most notable example. Taillon can have a big drop in his delivery at times. He’s not working to totally remove it from his delivery, but to reduce the drop and make the delivery stronger.
“It’s a part of me. It’s a part of my delivery,” Taillon said of the drop and drive. “That’s what I’ve been doing for a long time. But definitely kind of train it. Train it to not be so big. Just train it to be a small sit.”
The drop and drive can create timing issues, causing a pitcher to get the ball out of the glove later, commonly referred to as having late hands. One of the big issues with having late hands is that it can cause the ball to elevate, which has been Taillon’s biggest issue. That’s what he’s trying to eliminate from his delivery.
“That’s where it all starts,” Taillon said of his hands. “When my hands are late, I drop real low. It’s just being a little less aggressive with that sit, and getting my ball out of the glove a little earlier.”
Taillon doesn’t need to remove the big drop in order to be a good pitcher. But he increases his chances of being an ace one day by reducing the drop. If he can consistently learn to throw at the knees on a downward plane — something that is hard to do with the drop and drive delivery — then he could do some damage with his fastball, which reaches 99 MPH.
The right-hander is a power pitcher, so he will primarily work off his fastball. He also throws a curveball and a changeup. The curveball is already a major league pitch, with a hard, sharp break. I talked to one scout last year who said his curve might be the best in baseball. His changeup is more of a work in progress. He didn’t have much need for a changeup in high school, as he could get hitters out with his 99 MPH fastball and his plus curve. But the addition of a changeup will be necessary for him as he makes his way through pro ball.
“I’m real happy with the way it’s coming along,” Taillon said of his changeup. “I’m just throwing it more. That’s really what it is, is repetition. I threw it a lot this spring. Left-handed batters, right-handed batters. I’m comfortable throwing it now to whoever. It’s a good way to get quick outs. With pitch limits in the lower minors, it’s a good way to get quick outs early in the count, and it’s a good way to make your fastball play. I know the importance of it, and I’ve been using it a lot.”
Taillon got feedback on the pitch from various pitching coaches in the system, but also worked with Gerrit Cole, who is his throwing partner in Spring Training. The two pitchers threw the changeup back and forth on flat ground, and Cole — who throws what can be a plus changeup at times — gave Taillon some advice on the pitch.
“He’s got a really good changeup, as I’m sure everyone can tell,” Taillon said of Cole. “So he’s a good guy to have some feedback from.”
The right-hander is off to a strong start to the 2012 season, with the key numbers being his 12.5 K/9, his 5.2 H/9, and no homers in 8.2 innings. That’s a small sample, but Taillon’s off-season focus should lead to more of those results. If he can reduce the drop in his delivery, it will prevent him from elevating his pitches, which was the biggest issue for him in the past. And if he can add a strong changeup to his plus fastball and plus curveball, he could go from one of the top 15 prospects in the game, to one of the best overall.
WEST VIRGINIA BRINGING THE POWER
The top hitting team in the early part of the season has easily been the West Virginia Power. After seeing two more home runs in yesterday’s game, the West Virginia offense has combined for nine homers on the year. That’s one more than the other three affiliates combined.
The team leaders, Alen Hanson and Gregory Polanco, both have three home runs on the young season. That’s as many as the Pittsburgh Pirates have at the major league level, combined.
Out of the West Virginia hitters who have played in eight or more games, six have batting averages above .290. They are Dan Gamache (.296), Jose Osuna (.297), Josh Bell (.314), Gregory Polanco (.343), Jodaneli Carvajal (.343), and Alen Hanson (.372). Five of those players have an OPS over .800. Those five are Bell (.810), Gamache (.819), Carvajal (.921), Polanco (1.067), and Hanson (1.170).
Hanson, Polanco, and Carvajal make up three of the top six hitters in the system so far this year.
ROJAS BREAKING OUT?
When the Pirates drafted Mel Rojas Jr. in the third round of the 2010 draft, he wasn’t the obvious pick on the board. Top pitching prospect A.J. Cole was still on the board, ranked at the time as a mid-first round talent. The Pirates took Rojas, who was a raw switch hitting outfielder with five tool potential.
Last year Rojas had a .246/.312/.335 line in 508 at-bats in his first full season, playing at West Virginia. Despite the low stat line, the outfielder looked good in person. He has a good build, and a good swing from both sides of the plate. He puts on a hitting display in practice, but didn’t carry that approach over to the games, often making poor swings at breaking pitches, which led to 119 strikeouts.
So far in the young 2012 season, Rojas is doing a much better job of carrying his approach in to the game. In nine games he has a .333/.368/.528 line in 36 at-bats. Of his 12 hits, two have been triples and three have been doubles. He still has plate patience issues, with one walk and 11 strikeouts, but it’s good to see his potential starting to show this year.