The Debate: Should Jameson Taillon Be a September Callup?

Jameson Taillon has only made one start at the Triple-A level. That start was rough at first, with three earned runs in the first inning before Taillon settled down. He has time to make about five more starts before the end of the Triple-A regular season. Therefore, it’s probably too early to talk about him making the jump to the majors. But that discussion started long before this article.

Back in 2008 the Rays were the biggest surprise in the majors. While making a late season run they called up David Price in September, giving him 14 innings at the end of the year, mostly out of the bullpen. Price went on to pitch for the Rays in the ALCS and the World Series, combining for one earned run in 5.2 innings. Ever since then, every contending team with a top pitching prospect has been faced with the same question: Should they do what the Rays did with David Price?

Jameson Taillon definitely has the stuff to step into the bullpen. He has a fastball that can sit 94-96 MPH as a starter, and has touched triple digits. He has a hard breaking curveball which is a plus offering. That combination is all he would need to be an effective reliever. The question is, should Taillon be an option for the Pirates? James Santelli and I have debated this before on the Pirates Prospects podcast, and now that Taillon is in Triple-A we decided to give our arguments for and against the possible move. I will note that neither of us saw the other person’s argument until we wrote our own, although we’ve had the discussion before so we both know where each person is coming from.

Jameson Taillon has some of the best stuff in the Pirates' system.

Jameson Taillon has some of the best stuff in the Pirates’ system.

Why Jameson Taillon Should Be a September Callup, by James Santelli

Jameson Taillon has faced Major League hitting three times this year, and he has been stellar.

On Feb. 28, Taillon pitched two shutout innings versus the Boston Red Sox B-Team in Bradenton. He delivered a 1-2-3 first inning, striking out Brock Holt and Ryan Lavarnway on six consecutive swing-and-miss pitches. Holy crap. Then Taillon started the next inning giving up a single and walk but escaped by getting David Ross to fly out, Lyle Overbay to ground out and J.C. Linares to strike out looking.

On March 5 for Team Canada, Taillon pitched 2.2 innings without giving up a hit against the Milwaukee Brewers in a World Baseball Classic warmup game, though he then allowed four straight hits before being removed.

On March 10, in real WBC competition, Taillon worked a strong four-inning start facing Team USA. Just look at the lineup the 21-year-old had to face:

Jimmy Rollins
Brandon Phillips
Ryan Braun
Joe Mauer
David Wright
Ben Zobrist
Adam Jones
Eric Hosmer
Shane Victorino

That’s not an MLB lineup. That’s an All-Star lineup. The result? Taillon sat 93-95 miles per hour over his four innings, giving up four hits, one earned run, one walk and striking out Rollins, Braun and Victorino.

What I wrote above is all the evidence we have of Jameson Taillon going up against MLB players in a competitive environment. It’s not much, but he has been great, and I think that’s not the least of which because Taillon could go all out for his 50 or fewer pitches instead of having to stretch himself out for 100.

Jameson Taillon’s situation is not David Price’s situation or Francisco Rodriguez’s situation, but they are two of the only comparable players we have. Let’s summarize:

Price ended his first pro season out of Vanderbilt by pitching 19.2 innings in September and the playoffs, collected 20 strikeouts, 8 walks and a 1.83 ERA in helping the Tampa Bay Rays to the World Series.

Rodriguez’s first year as a reliever was 2002 at age 20. He dominated the Double-A and Triple-A levels to the tune of a 2.27 ERA and 120 strikeouts in 83.1 innings. Rodriguez went on to pitch 24.1 innings for the World Champion Anaheim Angels in September and October, posting 41 strikeouts (!!!), seven walks and a 1.48 ERA. Perhaps the Angels don’t even win the World Series were it not for K-Rod’s championship performance: 8.2 innings, 2 earned runs, 1 walk, 13 strikeouts

Everything I have seen from Taillon, Price and K-Rod proves to me that he is ready to be an effective Major League reliever and probably one of the best seven relievers Neal Huntington could come up with for the playoff roster. That is worth finding a 40-man roster spot to find out for sure. If Taillon is going to be shut down from pitching sometime in September (he is on pace for a career-high 160 innings), go ahead and tack on 10-15 innings more in a Major League bullpen. He has some of the best stuff in the system, and if the Pirates are serious about putting out their best 40 players for the September pennant race, Taillon deserves a spot.

Why the Pirates Don’t Need Jameson Taillon, by Tim Williams

One thing to note about David Price is that he was on the 40-man roster in 2008, which made the decision to call him up much easier. Taillon isn’t on the 40-man roster, so he doesn’t start off as one of 10-15 available guys to call up from the minors. The argument to call Taillon up is based on his stuff, and based on the fact that the Pirates could use all the help they can get for their playoff push. My feeling is that the Pirates don’t really need Taillon, and have no shortage of guys with his stuff.

The appeal with Taillon is his upper 90s fastball and plus breaking pitch out of the bullpen. If you look at the current 40-man roster, the Pirates have several options with that same profile. Vic Black, Duke Welker, and Stolmy Pimentel could all throw upper 90s with a plus breaking pitch out of the bullpen. That’s not counting the dominant relievers who are currently on the 25-man roster. If the Pirates didn’t have anyone who could throw hard with a great breaking pitch it would be one thing. But the fact that they have several guys who have dominant stuff just means there’s not a huge need for Taillon.

There’s also the limitations to the 40-man roster. Right now the callups would be:

SS – Chase d’Arnaud

OF – Jerry Sands

IF – Russ Canzler

RHP – Stolmy Pimentel

RHP – Vic Black

RHP – Brandon Cumpton

RHP – Ryan Reid

RHP – Duke Welker

LHP – Andy Oliver

You could make an argument against some of those guys. For example, Sands isn’t hitting this year, and Oliver lacks control. So you could replace them with other players in the minors.

The Pirates currently have one open spot on the 40-man roster. They will probably have to use that spot when James McDonald comes off the 60-day disabled list. They could open up another spot by placing Michael McKenry, on the 60-day DL. They could also call up Kyle McPherson and place him on the 60-day DL to open a second spot. So there would be room to add Taillon, but is the need there?

Here is the projected bullpen in September, assuming a rotation of A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Wandy Rodriguez, Jeff Locke, and Charlie Morton. I took Cole out and moved him to the bullpen due to innings, but feel free to swap out Charlie Morton.

Bullpen: Gerrit Cole, Jeanmar Gomez, Vin Mazzaro, Bryan Morris, Jared Hughes, Tony Watson, Justin Wilson, Mark Melancon, James McDonald, Stolmy Pimentel, Vic Black, Brandon Cumpton, Ryan Reid, Duke Welker, Andy Oliver

That’s 15 relievers, and I might replace Oliver with Kris Johnson as the third lefty. You might have a 16th depending on when Jason Grilli returns. Now here is the bench, assuming Travis Snider returns in September.

Bench: Tony Sanchez, Gaby Sanchez, Josh Harrison, Alex Presley, Clint Barmes, Chase d’Arnaud, Jerry Sands, Russ Canzler, Travis Snider

That’s nine players off the bench. You also only have one backup catcher, so that’s where one of those open 40-man spots should go.

So that leaves one final 40-man spot. Do you use that spot just to get Jameson Taillon in the majors as the 17th reliever? Or do you add an extra hitter, since there are far more pitchers on the current projected September roster?

I would go with the hitter. One name that hasn’t been mentioned above is Andrew Lambo. That would take the last 40-man spot, although you could create another one by replacing Jerry Sands. But there are guys in Triple-A who could fill more of a need than Taillon. Ivan De Jesus and Matt Hague are the top candidates.

You could always replace someone like Ryan Reid with Taillon. Taillon has better stuff, but such a move would be more for the novelty of having Taillon up. The upgrade he would provide would be minimal, especially when the Pirates have so many bullpen options to begin with. There’s also no guarantee that Taillon’s stuff would lead to results. Vic Black has an upper 90s fastball and a plus slider and he gave up two earned runs on six hits and two walks in four innings when he was up.

If you look back at that Rays team in 2008, you saw a team that didn’t have the depth the Pirates have now. They used 11 relievers in September, including David Price. The Pirates have 16 relievers to choose from before Jameson Taillon. Pretty much all of them have either had success in the majors this year or in previous years. Those that haven’t had success have the same upper 90s fastball/plus breaking pitch combo that makes Taillon so appealing.

Finally, if you bring Taillon up in September, you’ve got to keep him down an extra month next year to avoid Super Two status. Gerrit Cole came up in mid-June, and he should avoid Super Two. If Taillon comes up for a month this year, he’s going to have to stay down an extra month next year, coming up in mid-July. With his upside, he could make an additional $10 M in the long-run by becoming a Super Two player, so that’s not something the Pirates can just ignore. And I would rather have Taillon for an extra month as a starter in 2014, rather than having him for one month as just another reliever in 2013.

To summarize: the Pirates have other pitchers with Taillon’s stuff, they have limited 40-man space and more need for position players, and any time up in 2013 would delay Taillon’s 2014 debut.

Should the Pirates go with Taillon in September, or keep him in the minors? Give us your thoughts in the comments below.

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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