On Friday the Pittsburgh Pirates marched out Gerrit Cole, followed by Jameson Taillon, in a preview of what could be their number one and two in the Major League rotation for the next several years. The back to back appearances allowed for quick comparisons, including this interesting note from Jayson Stark.
Taillon zipped thru 2 IP so easily, may not need to shower, allowing just check-swing IF single. "Like him better than Cole," said one scout
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) February 28, 2014
It’s not really a big surprise that one scout likes Taillon more than Cole. He’s a talented pitcher, and scout opinions are not universal. There’s bound to be one scout who likes Taillon more than Cole. I’d be surprised if there was only one scout that thought this.
The comment sparked a discussion on Twitter. Travis Sawchik of the Trib shared a similar story with a scout liking Taillon more than Cole.
When I watched Cole's last Triple-A start in May, a scout said he preferred Taillon. I figured Cole's Sept changed those opinions. Maybe not
— Travis Sawchik (@Travis_Sawchik) February 28, 2014
JJ Cooper of Baseball America also had an interesting response from a poll when both were in the FSL together.
.@Sawchik_Trib: Polled 10 scouts/managers when both were in FSL. Majority preferred Cole, but it was close. Don't think that's changed much
— JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36) February 28, 2014
The reason this got a big reaction is twofold. One obvious reason is that Cole had a great 2013 season, looked like an ace at the end of the year, and now Taillon looks like he’ll be up by mid-season this year. If Taillon is the same as Cole, or better, then the Pirates will be in great shape this year and for the next several years.
I believe another reason for the big reaction is that people weren’t expecting this. Cole and Taillon have had very similar stories. They both were projected as future top of the rotation starters. They both had high velocity fastballs that were too hittable at times. They both focused on solving the fastball problem in the minors, which means their focus wasn’t on putting up ace-like numbers. The lack of those strong numbers means that people were down on both players, and doubted whether they could live up to their top of the rotation projections.
Most of this was because people only saw the numbers, and didn’t see the stuff in action, especially while imagining what it could be like when the training wheels came off. Last year the training wheels came off for Gerrit Cole, and we saw the results. I think the fact that we’ve seen results for Cole, and haven’t seen results for Taillon, is why people seem pleasantly surprised that Taillon is still regarded as being as good as Cole or better. The training wheels aren’t off yet for Taillon, and most of the perception on him is still numbers driven.
About a month ago I wrote about the things Jameson Taillon has been working on in the minors. He hasn’t been working on the numbers. He’s been working on reducing a drop in his delivery to prevent flattening his fastball out. He’s been working on his changeup. He’s been working on adding a two-seam fastball back to his mix, to give hitters a different look and prevent them from waiting on the curveball and sitting on the fastball. Once all of that comes together, I’d expect Taillon to be the 2014 version of Cole. And at that point, people won’t be surprised that Taillon is so comparable to Cole.
The good thing for the Pirates is that, no matter who wins the “who is better” debate, the Pirates win by having both in the rotation.