Jameson Taillon had an up and down year in 2012. He started off the season with seven amazing outings, combining for six earned runs in 36.2 innings, with a 36:7 K/BB ratio. From there, things went steadily down hill for the next two months. The right-hander gave up 45 earned runs in 66.1 innings from May 16th to July 25th. He then turned things around at the end of the season, giving up six earned runs in 39 innings over his final seven starts, with three of those coming in Double-A.
Last year I talked about what led to that up and down season. Taillon worked on improvements across the board, whether it was cleaning up his delivery, focusing more on his change-up, or having confidence in his stuff. I caught up with Taillon after his Spring Training debut on Thursday to see how he was doing in each of those areas.
One big change that came at the end of the year was the addition of a two-seam fastball to Taillon’s mix. That was more of a reintroduction than an addition, since Taillon had thrown the pitch before. The Pirates took it away when he was drafted, so that he could focus on keeping his four seam fastball down in the zone. They gave it back when he was ready to jump to Double-A.
“It was better than it was when I threw it in the bag,” Taillon said of how the pitch performed last year. “The big thing with that pitch is it’s a big confidence deal for me. I throw it hard, I throw it with a lot of movement. When I’m 2-0, 2-1, even 2-2, 3-2, it’s a pitch where I can throw and let it do its thing and induce weak contact. Something I feel I don’t have to be too perfect with. I can just let it do its thing and it’s been working out.”
The right-hander will use the two-seam fastball more to get ground balls early in the count. He’ll use his four seam fastball as the primary fastball, throwing it for placement pitches around the zone.
That four-seam fastball has also seen some improvements — not so much with the pitch itself, but as a result of a change in his delivery. Taillon has had a drop and drive delivery since high school. That’s where his back knee would drop down low to the mound before he would throw to the plate, which not only put more force on his arm, but made it harder to throw down in the zone. Taillon has worked the last two years to reduce that drop in his delivery, and was making some notable progress last year.
“I’m as comfortable now with my delivery as I ever have been,” Taillon said. “Everything’s coming along really well. There’s obviously stuff to still work on, as far as carrying it out to a game. Sometimes when you get out there, the nature of the beast is to go back to what you know. It really is feeling really good.”
If he can avoid reverting back to the old delivery, the results should follow. He already saw some improvements from 2011 to 2012, with his HR/9 ratio dropping from 0.9 to 0.6, and his BAA dropping from .248 in 2011, to .228 in Bradenton and .180 in Altoona in 2012.
A key pitch for Taillon’s success has always been his curveball, which is the best curve in the system and a plus offering. Last year the pitch was a bit inconsistent at times, mostly because the Pirates were stressing a focus on the changeup. Taillon threw a few nice curveballs in his Spring Training outing, getting some strikeouts thanks to the pitch.
“So far it’s been pretty money for me,” Taillon said of the curve. “Something about last year’s first half I was really fastball-changeup a lot of the time. Second half my curveball came back for me. I was throwing it 0-0, 1-0. I was throwing it pretty much any count. To make sure I had it all year this year, at the end of my catch play when I work it back in I’ll just start flipping it a couple times, just to get the better feel out front. I started doing that a little earlier this year. I work it in my catch everyday. I throw it in my flat grounds, just for feel. I’m not trying to throw a hammer every time. Just that feel for a strike breaking ball.”
In the early part of the 2012 season, the pitching coaches challenged Taillon to throw his changeup 20 times per game. The idea was to force him to use the pitch more often, which would allow him to get comfortable with the offering. He’s now to the point where he doesn’t have a set number of changeups that he has to throw. He’s comfortable enough that he can throw the pitch when it’s needed.
“I’m a lot more confident in it. I threw it to (Lyle Overbay) today,” Taillon said after Thursday’s outing. “I threw a strike changeup. It was one of the better changeups I’ve ever thrown. That’s a good confidence booster.”
Taillon is currently in his first big league camp. To prepare, he started throwing a week earlier, and got two bullpen sessions before he came to camp. His stuff looked good on Thursday, picking up where he left off at the end of the 2012 season.
“My off-speed’s ahead of where it has been in the Spring at this point,” Taillon said. “I feel like everything’s pretty sharp. Change-up’s good. Curveball’s been good. Fastball command has been a little inconsistent, but it’s early, so I’m not too concerned about it. Two-seam’s feeling good. Everything’s feeling good.”
He doesn’t have a shot at breaking camp with the Pirates. The right-hander will eventually be cut, so that he can add to his three starts above A-ball. Until then, he’ll get a good chance to learn from some of the veterans in camp.
“I’m trying to just do my thing, let my arm do the talking, and just sit back and learn from those guys. Just watching them go about their day has been huge,” Taillon said.
Taillon has an outside shot of making the majors in 2013. For the first two seasons, he was somewhat restricted. In 2011 there was an innings limit, focused on his long-term health. In 2012 he worked on improving his delivery, his changeup, and brought back the two-seam fastball. He still has some work to do. The changeup could be a plus offering, but it’s not there yet. He needs to stick with his delivery, and avoid reverting back to his old, extreme drop and drive ways. That will help him keep the fastball down in the zone.
It does seem like the training wheels are finally coming off. He’s now free to use all of his pitches how he wants to. He reached a point last year where he was able to consistently throw to 25-26 batters per outing. He added 50 innings from 2011 to 2012, and another innings increase in 2013 should put him right around a full season of work, without worrying about shutting him down early. He’s got a plus fastball, a plus curveball, the potential for a plus changeup, and a two-seam fastball which was very effective for him in Altoona last year. We could finally get a chance to see what Taillon can do when he’s unleashed and able to use his full arsenal of pitches over a full season.
If he starts out the way he finished in 2012, then he could move quickly through Altoona and Indianapolis. He probably wouldn’t arrive any sooner than September. However, if the Pirates were contending at the time, and if Taillon does handle the top two levels with ease, they could consider calling him up at the end of the year to add some pitching depth when rosters expand. A more conservative route would put Taillon in the majors in 2014, which would work out well for the Pirates, since A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez will probably both be gone after the 2013 season.