The Pittsburgh Pirates have been taking a slow and steady approach in bringing Jameson Taillon back from Tommy John surgery. The right-hander has been throwing live batting practice recently, and as I reported two weeks ago, he is starting to transition from pitching two days a week to a normal five-day schedule. He’s not yet pitching in games, but Pirates’ General Manager Neal Huntington said that he’s making “great progress.”
“[Taillon is] building on several good days and facing hitters and we look forward to him getting able to face some other color uniforms here soon than later,” Huntington said. “But we’re working through a very slow and very conservative progression because of our belief in what it takes to come back from Tommy John. Some scientifically proven, some anecdotally discovered.”
There’s a chance that Taillon could help the big league club later this season, especially with the late start he’s getting. He’d have plenty of innings left over at the end of the year, which would allow him to pitch into September and October.
“He’s making great progress and we look forward to him having good second half and being in a position to help us when he is ready to go,” Huntington said.
Clayton Richard Progressing Well
In terms of shorter-term depth, Clayton Richard might be able to help the Pirates sooner than Taillon. The left-hander recently threw six innings with Bradenton, allowing one unearned run while he showed off his new mechanics (which I detailed a few weeks ago).
“Clayton’s coming along very well,” Huntington said. “Had a good start in Bradenton, ball’s coming out of his hand well, secondary stuff was solid, got his pitches built up and we’re looking forward to him continuing to take steps forward and positioning himself to help us.”
As for the next step, Huntington wasn’t clear on where Richard would go from here, saying that this could depend on the schedule of each team, and the convenience factor from a travel standpoint. So it’s not a guarantee that he’ll take a natural progression where he moves straight to Altoona, followed by Indianapolis, in that order.
“In Clayton’s case he’s thrown the ball very well,” Huntington said. “I haven’t contacted our guys exactly where he is going. But it won’t be multiple times at multiple levels. We’re looking forward to getting him out and getting him going.”
Adrian Sampson and Angel Sanchez Impressing in the Minors
With Nick Kingham going down with an elbow injury, Adrian Sampson now looks like the top prospect who could make his debut in the Pirates’ rotation this year. He’s off to a great start, with a 2.80 ERA in 35.1 innings, along with a 35:10 K/BB ratio.
“He continues to mature,” Huntington said on Sampson. “Needs to continue to refine all the pitches and the consistency of the delivery and just gain experience at what upper-level hitters are going to do to him and he’s off to a good start as well.”
Ryan Palencer wrote about Sampson recently, noting that he’s been improving in every start this season. If he continues those improvements, he could easily be in Pittsburgh by the middle of the season, and possibly a fixture in the rotation for the long-term if he lives up to his number three upside potential.
One level below Sampson is Angel Sanchez, who is off to a great start this year. The Pirates claimed Sanchez off waivers last year, got him through waivers and outrighted him to the minors over the off-season, and have him in the rotation in Altoona. He currently has a 1.91 ERA in 33 innings, with an 18:10 K/BB ratio, although he started to see some struggles recently, giving up six earned runs in 10.1 innings over his last two outings, with most of the damage coming in his last start.
“Angel started out great,” Huntington said. “He’s had one tough outing but mostly has thrown the ball and been aggressive with his fastball. Secondary stuff has been solid for him as well. He’s attacked the zone and a guy that we obviously claimed on waivers and had some interest in and we’re fortunate to be able to get back through waivers, but could fit for us.”
If Sanchez rebounds well from the last two outings, he could be a candidate to move up to Indianapolis next month. That would put him in line to make it to the majors by the end of the year, likely as bullpen help, with his mid-90s fastball playing up in a relief role.