Jameson Taillon: The 2014 Version of Gerrit Cole

Jameson Taillon could be the 2014 version of Gerrit Cole.

Jameson Taillon could be the 2014 version of Gerrit Cole.

In 2013, the Pittsburgh Pirates saw Gerrit Cole make the jump to the majors in mid-June. By the end of the season, Cole was starting to look like the ace he was projected to become when he was taken first overall in the 2011 draft. The Pirates are hoping for similar results from fellow top pitching prospect Jameson Taillon in 2014. Taillon, taken second overall in 2010, will start the 2014 season in Triple-A, and could very well be in Pittsburgh by mid-season. Just like Cole, Taillon has the upside as a top of the rotation starter.

The right-hander went to the Arizona Fall League over the off-season in an attempt to get some additional innings. He threw 147.1 innings during the regular season, and was hoping to boost his innings count in the AFL to prepare for the 2014 season. Gerrit Cole threw 185.1 innings in 2013 between Triple-A and the majors, not counting his playoff innings where he added 11 more frames. If Taillon has the same workload in 2014, he would see an increase of about 50 innings over his 2013 totals.

Unfortunately, Taillon went down in his second inning of work in the AFL with a mild groin strain. The Pirates pulled him out of the AFL as a precaution, and he was recovered from the injury after a few weeks.

“Whenever it happened, it felt like some fire tugging in there,” Taillon said. “So I think we just erred on the side of caution, and in a couple of weeks I felt pretty good, back to normal. That’s an injury I don’t want to mess with ever again, so I’m being pretty preventative for it.”

Taillon can still see an increase in his innings from where he was in 2013. One thing he’s been doing to prepare for the added workload is working out and adding muscle. He’s added 7-8 pounds, and is up to 245 pounds now.

“I’ve just been getting after it in the weight room,” Taillon said. “Trying to put on some weight so I can go as many innings as I want this year.”

He said he still feels loose and limber, and that he won’t ever sacrifice that for added muscle. He has already starting throwing, starting in mid-December with his normal program. Taillon trains every year during the off-season in Texas with a lot of players from around the league. That includes players in the Pirates’ system who live in Texas, such as Zack Dodson, Stetson Allie, and Jared LaKind, to name a few. Taillon also invites other teammates from outside of Texas to come join him in training.

“I’ve been known to take people in and let them crash on my couch if they want to come,” Taillon said. “[Tyler] Waldron did it for a bit last year. Get out of the cold weather.”

Now the question is whether Taillon can be the next Gerrit Cole, and make the same jump with similar success to what Cole saw in 2013.

“That’d be nice. He had a great year,” Taillon said. “I kept in touch with him all throughout it, so I kind of know how it works. It will be nice to have him, who’s gone through it. At the same time, we’re different, so we’ll see what happens. But that wouldn’t be the worst scenario, that’s for sure.”

To get an idea of where Taillon is at, let’s review the progress of his four pitches.

Jameson Taillon

Taillon’s best pitch is his fastball, and like Gerrit Cole, he should work off the fastball to set up other pitches.

Four-Seam Fastball

The key to Taillon’s fastball has always been his ability to keep the ball down. When he came into pro ball, he had a big drop in his delivery. That led to him flattening the ball out and leaving it up in the zone. The Pirates have worked with him on reducing that drop, and he has seen progress. He can now throw at opposing hitters’ knees, rather than leaving a 98 MPH fastball up in the zone to be crushed. He’s always going to have some drop in his delivery, and he’ll have the occasional problems of getting too flat with his fastball.

Most of what Taillon discussed with Cole involved clubhouse and travel information — things you don’t usually think about at first when you think about adjusting to the majors. But Cole also gave Taillon some advice on pitching in the majors.

“As far as pitching, keep the ball down, mix it up, don’t be middle,” Taillon said. “Obviously they’re a lot better up there, but you’ve got to keep it simple and do what you do best.”

Taillon’s best pitch is his fastball, which sits in the mid-90s and tops out at 99. You can expect him to work off the four-seam fastball, just like Cole worked off his fastball to set up his other pitches when he came up.

Changeup

A big focus for Taillon the last two years has been the development of his changeup. As a high schooler with a fastball that could hit upper 90s and a great curve, Taillon didn’t have much need for a changeup. In 2012, the Pirates challenged him to throw 20 changeups per start while he was in High-A. That allowed him to get comfortable with the pitch, and Taillon saw big improvements with the change in 2013. The addition of a solid changeup helps limit mistakes with his other offerings.

“That’s just an equalizer for me,” Taillon said of the changeup. “If I show I have that early in the game, it takes so much pressure off of my fastball. Pitches I wasn’t getting away with a couple of years ago, I’ll get away with now, just because I have it in the back of their head. I’ll throw it in any count, which is a big pressure reliever for me.”

Since Taillon will always have a bit of a drop in his delivery, and will always be at risk of leaving a ball up in the zone, it’s good to have the changeup to keep hitters honest. Rather than sitting back and waiting for a pitch to crush, hitters have to respect that Taillon is now more than just a guy with a plus curve and an upper 90s fastball that leads to the occasional mistake.

When Taillon came into pro ball, he didn't have much beyond a fastball and curveball, with command issues on both pitches.

When Taillon came into pro ball, he didn’t have much beyond a fastball and curveball, with command issues on both pitches.

Two-Seam Fastball

Another thing Taillon added back in 2012 was a two-seam fastball. He had the pitch in high school, but the Pirates took it away after the draft, having him focus on commanding the four-seam fastball. He was going to work on the pitch more in the AFL, but didn’t get the chance due to his injury. To make up for that, he has been working the pitch into his throwing program a little more often this year.

“That’s almost an equalizer too,” Taillon said. “You show something that moves in, it’s always in their mind. Got something on the curveball that’s moving away, a two-seam that will run in, so it’s good to show them different looks. The higher up you go, the more looks you want to give them.”

Once again, adding a pitch to help take the focus off the fastball keeps hitters honest. Taillon’s numbers early in his minor league career weren’t what you’d expect from a future ace. However, at the time he was a guy with a curveball that looked like a plus pitch at times, and a fastball that was often flat and up in the zone. Not only has he reduced the tendency to be up in the zone, but he’s added a changeup and a two-seam fastball since then, which makes it harder for hitters to lay off the curve and sit on the fastball.

Another benefit to the two-seam fastball is that he can use the pitch to get quick ground ball outs. That will keep his pitch count low, allowing him to pitch deeper into games.

Curveball

The big secondary pitch for Taillon is his curveball. That is going to be his out-pitch in the majors, just like Gerrit Cole’s hard slider. Taillon’s curve is more of a slurve, sitting in the 83-84 MPH range. At times he has struggled to command the pitch, but he has seen improvements in that area throughout his career.

“I’ve always had a good curveball, but I feel that the higher I’ve gone up, the more I’ve been able to command it,” Taillon said. “The more I’ve been able to pick and choose where I want to throw it. First pitch strike, in the dirt 0-2, which is really big because when you’re in Triple-A you’ve got to be able to throw an 0-0 breaker for a strike. Obviously when you’re in the big leagues also. This past year I felt I was really solid on it.”

Top of the Rotation Upside

The biggest knock on Taillon is that he doesn’t have the numbers you’d expect from a future top of the rotation starter. That was the same knock against Gerrit Cole, and we saw how that worked out. Cole started the 2013 season getting crushed and dealing with bad control in Triple-A. He ended the season looking like an ace in the majors. Taillon has struggled at times in his career — getting hit hard in West Virginia, a poor start in Bradenton in 2012, a few horrible starts in Altoona in 2013 — but if you look at the stuff and not the stats you’ll see why he’s got a great upside.

He’s a guy who has constantly been evolving since he came into pro ball. He’s no longer a two-pitch guy with command issues on both pitches. He’s now got a good changeup, he’s working on improving the two-seam fastball, he has done a better job of keeping the four-seam fastball down, and he’s throwing the curveball like a plus pitch. That’s the makeup of a future top of the rotation starter. When it all comes together for Taillon, just like it eventually did for Cole, the top of the rotation numbers will finally come.

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://wkkortas.wordpress.com wkkortas

    I think you need a question mark at the end of the headline. Obvioulsy, there’s no question that Taillon’s tools are no less impressive than Cole’s, but history is littered with pitchers–hell, great pitchers–who were far from dominant once they reached The Show. It’s not uncommon for a player’s development track to be a bumpy ride; hell, I wouldn’t be shocked if Cole had his struggles this year. I don’t think Pirate fans should be pencilling in 10 or 12 wins for Taillon. Could happen, yes, but it’s far from a given.

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

      I’m saying he will be the 2014 version of Cole, thus no question mark in the title.

      • http://wkkortas.wordpress.com wkkortas

        One hopes, certainly.

  • P4L

    Tim,

    Given that his pitch selection was limited (ex. 2-seam taken away) and that he was forced to work on certain pitches (ex. change-up), to me it makes perfect sense that his numbers were not as dominant as they could have been. But, from a development standpoint this seems to be the most logical and best approach.

    Given that approach, I would not expect to see really good numbers until these reigns are fully removed, which I would anticipate happening in AAA.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on whether the development approach leads to worse numbers initially, masking the fact that you actually have a really excellent pitcher.

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

      It’s basically the same thing that happened with Cole. He came into pro ball with a great fastball that was a bit too hittable. The Pirates had him focus on that, rather than using his other pitches. That led to numbers that don’t scream “future ace”, but it also allowed Cole to develop his fastball to the point where he could eventually dominate MLB hitters with the pitch. Once the Pirates let him loose, he started to do just that, mixing in the other pitches to look like an ace.

      Taillon could have put up amazing numbers in the minors if they would have just let him pitch. But they didn’t. They focused on the fastball. They focused on throwing a ton of changeups. Basically they focused on improving all of the pitches, rather than letting him have success throwing as hard as he could and mixing in the curve. As a result, he has a much better chance of putting up great MLB numbers. I’d take that every time over the minor league numbers.

      • emjayinTN

        Tim: An excellent explanation of the Pirates trying to teach “throwers” how to be “pitchers”. These are kids coming into the system with 2 or 2.5 pitches and developing them to work off the fastball while pitching to contact and changing them into MLB-caliber pitchers with 3.5 or 4 plus pitches. And, the Pirates work on the confidence factor with all of them. I have seen some negatives about the stats of Heredia in Lo A, but that is the Pirates method of teaching – throw strikes, pitch to contact, and keep the ball down. As you stated, many folks thought that Bauer was the better pick of the two, but Cole has experienced some failures coming through the system, and I think that tends to build character. If Taillon comes up and gets 15 starts, it is a positive for the Bucs and for him. Last year, it was not all on Cole to show well; Locke, Liriano, Burnett, Morton, Perez, and Cumpton helped take a lot of the pressure off and allowed him to go out there without a lot of pressure riding on each start. Once he got started, he became the MAN. Hope we see a lot of that in 2014.

  • IC Bob

    Thanks Tim for the update. Its always frustrating when a potential future ace gets lit up by A/AA hitters. It does make us question whats up. I think you have done a great job explaining the Pirates thought process. I have through the years questioned the approach but the proof is in the pudding and as far as I can tell its working. I am expecting great things from Tallion and I am starting to get even more excited about the other guys coming as well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

    Now, let’s hope these same methods work on Glasnow. If so, to quote every teenage girl in America, OMG!!!!

    :) :)

  • http://atung.net/ Steve Zielinski

    96-99 mph cannot be taught. At best, mechanical adjustments can turn potential into a real capacity. Command and control can be enhanced, and a pitcher with some athleticism ought to be able to increase his command and control as he matures. Let us hope that Taillon can take the next step.

    Throw low strikes, change speeds, move the pitch to the two sides of the plate — the strategy is not too complex, it’s the execution which causes the problems.