First Pitch: Gerrit Cole or Jameson Taillon? Who is Better?

Has Jameson Taillon passed Gerrit Cole?

Has Jameson Taillon passed Gerrit Cole?

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

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.

Gerrit Cole

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.

The Comparison

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.

Prospects

**Prospect Watch: Andy Oliver and the West Virginia Offense Go Heavy on the Strikeouts.

**Minor League Schedule: 4/20/13.

**Prospect Trends: Some Fast Starts for West Virginia Hitters.

**Prospect Notebook: Looking Deeper at Another Group of Breakout Players in West Virginia.

**Pirates Release Alex Valdez.

**Draft Prospect Watch: Gray Dominant, Bryant Homers.

Pirates

**Pirates Pregame: Marte Gets the Day Off.

**Video: Wandy Rodriguez Postgame.

**From Thursday: Morton Shows Good Stuff in Rehab Start; Still Has Things to Iron Out.

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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  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

    I’ll take 1 and 1a. But for those expecting Cole to be a rotation savior this year, the “One thing to consider with Cole is that he has started slow in each level.” is kinda ominous.

    • meatygettingsaucy

      and probably means if he has two bad starts everyone in Pittsburgh will be declaring him an utter bust and want him traded or released.

  • joe g.

    Would like to have seen a comparison of their stuff and their best pitches, etc.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      That can be found in pretty much every other article about them on this site, as well as in the Prospect Guide.

  • leadoff

    I don’t even know if they are the best talents in the system, but last year in the minors would not tell anyone very much about either one of these guys because of the pitch limitations that each one had and by what they were working on. If I had to pick one to come up and pitch one important game without either one of them being up before, it would be Taillon, because Taillon pitched in the World Classic and did a very good job against a lineup of major league players. I put very little stock in whether a pitcher gives up a few hard hit balls or gives up a couple of walks, walks can be overrated, you have to actually see a walk vs the stat of a walk, umpires have a lot to do with some walks, Pedro and Walker have been struck out on ball four a lot of times, those are walks that a pitcher did not have to get because of an umpire.
    I have more concern for a pitcher being wild than I do with a pitcher giving up walks that are on the black.
    One thing is clear and that is that Taillon and Cole are superbly talented young pitchers, but both have to learn how to pitch, their above average fastballs are not going to carry them.

    • emjayinTN

      leadoff: Just stop and think about the possibility of a 2014 starting Rotation that starts with Burnett, Rodriguez, Cole, Taillon, and anybody else (Locke,Liriano, Oliver, Sanchez). Wandy has a player option to get $14 mil in 2014 and if exercised, the ‘stro’s have to chip in around $6 mil of that amount. The real problem is that Burnett is finishing his $16.5 mil contract this year. I have to think he is thrilled with his pitching in Pittsburgh when many in baseball thought he was done. Having two guys like he and Wandy for guys like Cole and Taillon to watch would be fantastic. Is 2014 the year we raise that team salary to between $80 and $90 mil?

    • buster09

      I couldn’t agree with you more leadoff. And that isn’t to discount Tim’s statements. Having seen them both pitch at the AA level more than once,I have my own opinion on which guy I think will be the better pitcher for the long run,but it is irrelevant really.I am not a professional scout. One other subject I would also agree with leadoff about is the number of walks for each. I don’t know about his time in AAA,but I saw Cole get severly squeezed on several occasions while in AA.

  • http://twitter.com/frsthypocrit frsthypocrit

    I like your stuff, Tim, but this article didn’t say anything, really.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      Really? Didn’t say anything? Next time I’ll talk about how Cole usually starts off slow at each level, putting his early season start in perspective. I’ll also talk about how Taillon had a great start last year, then struggled despite looking dominant early, which is why we should give him more time before jumping to any conclusions.

      Only I talked about both of those in this article. This wasn’t a “let’s talk about their stuff”. If I did that I’d just be repeating every other article I’ve written about them. This was more about putting the early season numbers in perspective with what they’ve done in the past.

      • http://twitter.com/frsthypocrit frsthypocrit

        I’m sorry, I guess I should have said it doesn’t tack itself to a point. It’s rumination, basically. That’s fine, I guess, but I think your readers look to you as an expert or at least quasi-expert so a stance that they can take or leave based on your analysis is helpful. Just my opinion.

        I get that the analysis is there… not meant to be an a**hole-ish comment.

        • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

          Well I already have a stance that’s shown on the top 20 prospects list. Cole is better, and Taillon is right behind him. And I did mention that in the article. Basically all of the reasons I mentioned are reasons why I’m not changing that stance early in the season.

  • burghdood

    As a 1-2 punch, it could be like a poor man’s Drysdale & Koufax when they come up, with Cole being a little more like Drysdale-somewhat bigger, stronger & more intimidating…of course, SK was a once in a lifetime KO guy, but with out a long shelf life-if we were lucky enough to have gotten Strasburg (plus Cole), it would have been just like the Dodgers circa 66!

  • piratemike

    The most consistent thing about Cole is his inconsistency from college through his pro career.
    Maybe the experts have over-rated him from the start and led people to believe he has a higher ceiling than he can reach, it wouldn’t be the first time and won’t be the last.
    Or hopefully the the experts were right all along and the Pirates will have two very good young pitchers at the top of the rotation.
    We may have the answer by the end of this season.
    Frankly I am leaning toward the former.

    • leadoff

      Their talent is unmistakeable, what they will do with it remains to be seen.

  • http://www.facebook.com/fred.langford.9 Fred Langford

    I have been normally in the minority believing Taillon is a better prospect. I haven’t seen them live to the degree you guys that own and work for this site have but the reasons I like Taillon better are his size and his potential to have substantially better command than Cole…whose command has worried me from the time he was at UCLA and we were considering drafting him. I just get Kris Benson thoughts when I think of Cole for some reason. Cole does have the potential for 3 plus or better pitches which Taillon hasn’t quite shown yet but I like Taillon’s curve better than Cole’s secondary pitches…and I like the fact that Taillon may not be done growing and adding velocity. Both are such great prospects though…like Tim said it is splitting hairs. The fact that Cole has been pushed as much as he has by a usually conservative fo shows what faith they have in him.