In 2011 I was in West Virginia for Jameson Taillon’s pro debut. It was raining that night, which had a lot of scouts in the tight confines of the Appalachian Power Park press box. I was talking with an AL scout about Taillon in anticipation of his debut. This particular scout had seen Taillon pitch before, and had an opinion that stood out to me.
“He’s never going to be able to throw fastballs at the knees.”
The reason for that proclamation was Taillon’s drop and drive delivery. A drop and drive delivery is where a pitcher drops his back knee toward the mound before he pushes forward and throws the pitch. The drop puts more stress on the arm, forcing the arm to do more of the work with the pitch, rather than the body generating velocity. The delivery also makes it hard to throw downhill, and can make fastballs come in flat, which is why this scout felt Taillon would never be able to throw down in the zone.
I thought about this yesterday when discussing some of the top 20 prospect rankings, and specifically Josh Bell. In the article I noted that a scout raised questions about Bell’s swing, noting that he held his elbow too high, which caused him to be late on some pitches. I had a conversation with Lee Young in the comments section about this. Some of the topics we discussed were “why aren’t the Pirates fixing this” and “how does this impact Bell’s future”. Thinking about all of this brought me back to Taillon.
Every prospect has some sort of flaw. If they didn’t, there would be no reason for them to be in the minors. You’ll also get individual people who will disagree about the flaw a prospect has. Just because one scout sees something he doesn’t like about a player, doesn’t mean that scout is right. Another scout might disagree with that first scout. So who is right?
At the same time, if a scout notices something wrong, or if the team notices the same thing wrong, that doesn’t mean you can flip a switch and the problem just goes away. Something I was told when asking about Tim Alderson’s loss in velocity a few years ago made the most sense on this subject. The comment was along the lines of how it took a few years for Alderson to develop a flaw which prevented him from throwing with his old velocity, so that flaw wasn’t going to change overnight. A year after hearing this, Alderson was back throwing in the low-90s (although he’s looking like middle relief depth at best at this point, even with that velocity).
One of the questions about Bell yesterday was “why aren’t the Pirates fixing this?” Coincidentally, Karen Price of the Trib had an article last night on this very subject. She noted that the Pirates had been working on Bell’s swing, but that it wasn’t coming along as quickly as Stetson Allie’s swing.
Merced said Bell has a few more holes in his swing than fellow prospect Stetson Allie but that Bell is making the transition well hitting from both sides of the plate. If anything, Merced said, Bell tries too hard to create power instead of relying on his natural power.
That’s not a big concern. If one of those things is unusual, it’s the fact that Allie picked things up so quickly. Like I noted before, it takes time to make an adjustment with prospects. Once again, I go back to Taillon’s drop in his delivery.
Last year the Pirates promoted Jameson Taillon to Double-A, with his first start being in Trenton. I made plans to drive up to Trenton and go to the start for two reasons. One was that John Dreker, who normally covers games in Trenton, was preoccupied. The other was that this gave me an excuse to go to New York City after the game and try the Oklahoma Jumbo beef rib at Daisy May’s BBQ, which featured a bone that was as long as my forearm. Oh yeah, and I was going to Trenton to see Taillon make his debut of course.
Taillon had a great debut, but one thing that stood out to me was the drop in his delivery a year and a half later. You can see the difference in the two images below.
The first image is a picture I took during Taillon’s debut in West Virginia in 2011. The second image is a picture I took during Taillon’s Altoona debut in 2012. I added the text with the years at the bottom of the pictures. That wasn’t something Taillon had to actually step over on the mound.
Ever since speaking to that scout in late April, 2011, I had followed Taillon’s progress with that drop in his delivery. He has mentioned to me that they’ve been trying to reduce the size of the drop, although that’s always going to be a part of his delivery. That’s understandable, as removing the drop entirely would mean reworking his whole delivery. Obviously the delivery works and makes him a top prospect, but if you can make a slight adjustment that would allow Taillon to do a better job of driving pitches down in the zone, you make that adjustment.
Since making his minor adjustment, Taillon has done a better job of pitching at the knees. He will occasionally flatten out a fastball, but not as frequently as he would in his time in West Virginia, or even in high school. One advantage to reducing the drop is that Taillon is using his body more to throw, and his arm less, which allows him to throw high velocity pitches with much less effort.
As I’ve mentioned, if prospects didn’t have anything to work on, they’d be in the majors. Sometimes the thing players have to work on is obvious. Sometimes it’s just a problem where the solution isn’t as obvious (high strikeouts for hitters, high walks for pitchers). Sometimes it’s a player who has all of the tools and has good numbers, but needs to do something to take his game to the next level. In any case, it’s going to take time to develop and get rid of that problem. Often, players don’t get rid of their issue. That’s why we say “prospects aren’t a guarantee”, and why the success rate for prospects is low. But the fact that a prospect has a flaw shouldn’t be cause for too much concern, especially if the prospect is in A-ball. If that prospect continues having the same flaw two or three years later, that’s when the concern should set in. Anything before that is just expecting prospects to develop overnight, and that is usually the exception rather than the rule.