Spoiler alert: Before I begin, I’m not going to answer the question of which prospect between Gerrit Cole or Jameson Taillon is better. I think that no matter which side you pick, you’re going to be splitting hairs. I’ll also take the cheap way out, and point out that it’s a good problem to have to debate which top pitching prospect is the better option.
I’ve been getting comments asking if Jameson Taillon is now ahead of Cole due to his strong start. I wanted to review a few things about each player, and look at a few of the key comparison points, mostly to show that it’s probably too early to make any decision. Let’s begin with Taillon.
Jameson Taillon is off to a great start this year. He has given up two earned runs in 18 innings, with a 20:7 K/BB ratio. Those are dominant numbers, and they only follow up on Taillon’s start with Altoona last year where he had three earned runs in 17 innings, with an 18:1 K/BB ratio. Overall, Taillon had a 1.29 ERA in 35 innings in Double-A, with a 38:8 K/BB ratio.
Before you start asking when he’ll be promoted to Indianapolis, keep this in mind: Taillon also had a strong start last year with Bradenton. In his first seven starts he gave up just six earned runs in 36.2 innings, with a 36:7 K/BB ratio. That spanned through May 10th. The same “when is he going to be called up” questions came up then. But Taillon followed that up with a few horrible starts in the middle of the season.
It should be noted that he turned things around in the second half in Bradenton. Taillon finished strong at the level, and looked great in Altoona at the end of the year. I’m not sure that makes his situation now any different than last year. In 2011 he didn’t have the greatest numbers, and he started off with dominant results in 2012. If 2012 taught us anything, it’s that we shouldn’t rush to promote anyone, or even make long-term judgements based on short-term results.
John Eshleman covered Taillon’s start on Wednesday, and noted that while he looked good, there were still some things to work on. Taillon had a few innings where he didn’t have his command, and left a few pitches up. Those types of mistakes can hurt you in the upper levels, so that should be a focus for the young pitcher.
Cole isn’t off to the best start this year. In his first two outings he combined for six innings total, after being pulled both times early for a high pitch count. He came back with a better outing in his last start, but it wasn’t great. He gave up one run in 6.1 innings, but had four walks in the process. Cole has had problems putting hitters away, and has also dealt with some control issues. The control was a problem towards the end of his time with Altoona, but the Pirates moved him up. We’re not talking Andy Oliver-level control issues, but Cole has been prone to high walk totals like we saw on Tuesday.
One thing to consider with Cole is that he has started slow in each level. In fact, last year when Taillon was off to a hot start in Bradenton, Cole was off to a slow start at the same level. In Cole’s first four starts, he combined for 9 earned runs in 17 innings. After that he settled down, and got promoted by mid-season.
In his first six starts with Altoona, Cole allowed 14 runs in 26 innings. He didn’t spend as much time with Altoona as he did with Bradenton, but the run count in the other starts was good.
This is another case where we’ve learned in the past not to make long-term judgements based on short-term results.
This is the point where I say that you’re splitting hairs when you’re trying to determine who is better between Cole and Taillon. Coming into the season, Cole was universally considered better, but I don’t think the gap was huge. If Taillon’s early season success has done anything, it has shown that the gap between the two isn’t that big at all. If you are ranking them, then they are basically 1a and 1b.
Aside from the disclaimer that we’re talking about a small sample of stats, I think you also have to consider the situations. Taillon is playing at a level below Cole, which means you can’t view their numbers in the same light. Then there’s the history to consider. We’ve seen Taillon go through dominant stretches before. While the hope is that he’s figured it out now, I don’t think that should be the assumption. Cole has a history of starting slow at a new level, and he’s still in that slow starting window at the Triple-A level.
I’m not making a case for either guy here. I feel both are talented pitchers, and I’ve felt that the gap between them isn’t as big as it appears in the national rankings, where Taillon is usually about 8-10 spots lower than Cole. So I think if anything, Taillon is just showing more people that he’s just as good as Cole. Overall I’m just saying that any decision or opinion on either player, whether it’s the decision to promote them, how to grade their skills, or the opinion on who is better, should be made with a larger sample of data. Oh, and I’m also saying that debating between which pitching prospect is better is a great problem to have.
Links and Notes
**The 2013 Prospect Guide and the 2013 Annual are both available on the products page of the site. If you order them together, you’ll save $5.
**From Thursday: Morton Shows Good Stuff in Rehab Start; Still Has Things to Iron Out.