Earlier today I had my weekly radio segment with David Todd on ESPN 970 in Pittsburgh. We discussed a lot of topics in a two-segment interview, but started off with the primary topic of whether Jameson Taillon could pitch in Pittsburgh this year. You can click that link and hear the discussion, but I’ll give my thoughts in short.
The biggest issue for Taillon in the minors has been that he has been too hittable for a guy with his velocity. He sits mid-90s, and can touch higher. But early in his career the fastball was flat and up in the zone. He worked to improve that before Tommy John surgery, and has looked great in his rehab. He’s throwing the ball down in the zone with angle, and showing no effort in doing so. The biggest thing he needed to work on seems fixed. And as a result, I don’t think he’d need a lot of time in Indianapolis once he returns.
Taillon has the upside of a top of the rotation starter, but it’s important to consider that he’s probably not going to be that when he first comes up. In fact, we can take a lesson from Gerrit Cole here.
Right now, Cole looks like the ace he was projected to become when he was taken first overall in the 2011 draft. He had one of his worst outings on Monday from a stuff and command perspective, and still threw seven innings without an earned run, and struck out nine. On the season, Cole has a 1.90 ERA in 71 innings, with a 2.54 xFIP. But it wasn’t always this way.
In Cole’s first 222.1 innings, he had a 3.52 ERA and a 3.36 xFIP. That spanned through September 1st last year. Since then, he has a 2.25 ERA and a 2.40 xFIP. Those are some arbitrary end points, but the key thing is that he had about a full season where he looked good, but not great, and after that he started fulfilling his potential.
Break that down further, and Cole had a 3.89 ERA and a 3.75 xFIP in his first month, spanning 41.2 innings. That’s about where the league average is for the 2015 season.
If that’s what can be expected for Taillon, then that’s something you’d take. Obviously you can’t expect that for Taillon, since there’s no guarantee he’d do that well right away. But the key thing here is that the Pirates most likely wouldn’t be adding an ace. They’d be adding a guy who has the potential to be an ace — and it might take 200+ innings until he gets there, like with Cole. In the meantime, he could put up league average numbers, which would be a slight upgrade over the upside that you’d want from Jeff Locke if his ERA gets closer to his xFIP. And the best thing about Taillon is that he wouldn’t be expected to stop there.
I don’t know if the Pirates will call Taillon up this year, but I wouldn’t rule it out. Their conservative approach with his rehab not only plays it safe in bringing him back, but also leaves plenty of innings for him to finish out the year, even if he was needed to pitch in September and October in Pittsburgh. And outside of getting used to upper level hitters once again, and regaining command of all of his pitches, there isn’t much for him to work on before he will be ready to make that jump.
**David Todd Podcast: Can Jameson Taillon Pitch in Pittsburgh This Year? Also includes draft talk, and a discussion on Yeudy Garcia, Harold Ramirez, and Barrett Barnes.
**How Cole Tucker is Adjusting to His Aggressive Push, On and Off the Field. We talk so much about on-field performance, but I also looked at the off-field adjustments Cole Tucker is having to make as a young player in a full season league.
**Clayton Richard Getting Comfortable With New Mechanics in Triple-A. Ryan Palencer looks at how Richard has been improving in his starts with Indianapolis. After the article went up, he went 7.2 shutout innings in his latest outing.
**Prospect Watch: Richard Throws Shutout Ball, Willy Garcia Homers Twice. Along with that performance from Richard, Willy Garcia saw his power break out, and Yeudy Garcia had another great outing.
**Radhames Liz Clears Waivers, Outrighted to Indianapolis. Liz will stick around in the organization, which isn’t a surprise. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s up later in the season, especially if he manages to show some improvements in Indianapolis.