PITTSBURGH – One of the biggest things I was looking forward to last year was Jameson Taillon’s MLB debut in the second half. It may seem strange talking about that like it was inevitable, but there was a time when it looked exactly that way.
Taillon spent his Tommy John rehab period cleaning up his mechanics. He came back and looked much better than before, with a clean and easy delivery, and downhill plane on his fastball. The latter thing was something that he lacked in the past, with a flat fastball that usually sat up in the zone, making him more hittable than a guy who sits 94-96 MPH should be.
Unfortunately, Taillon went down with a hernia injury right after getting extended to five innings in exhibition games in Florida. Without the hernia surgery, he would have started a rehab assignment, and most likely would have been the option to be called up in late July when the Pirates needed a starter after A.J. Burnett went down with an injury. Taillon might even be in the MLB rotation today if that scenario played out.
Instead, he had the surgery, and went his second full season without showing up in an official box score. That made it look like he lost two years from a far, to those who didn’t see the improvements he made with his mechanics. In fact, some wrote over the off-season that Taillon had two wasted seasons, which the right-hander took exception to, and which Clint Hurdle addressed today in his pre-game presser.
“He didn’t waste one day,” Hurdle said. “He had to pour into something different than he ever poured into before. And that’s a rehab and recovery which takes courage, guts, perseverance. It takes a posse of people to work with him. This guy had to do a bunch of crazy things to get back. And he has, and I was so encouraged by his outing last night.”
Taillon returned to an official box score last night, and showed what everyone couldn’t see from his rehab work in Florida last year. He went six innings, giving up a run on five hits, with no walks and six strikeouts. He was efficient, needing just 85 pitches in the start. His fastball had that downward movement, as you can see in the video below. Also in the video below, the curveball was back.
Hurdle said that Taillon’s outing was one of the first things he looked at this morning. After his media session this morning, he called Taillon to tell him “well done” and to continue what he was doing last night.
In my season preview, I wrote that Taillon is the prospect who could have the biggest impact in Pittsburgh this year. I put him ahead of Tyler Glasnow, as I think his stuff is more MLB ready than Glasnow’s, and all he needs is some time to get re-acclimated against upper level hitters. He also has the stuff that could easily translate to the majors, with a chance to repeat what Gerrit Cole did in 2013 — coming up and putting up league average numbers at first, then adjusting and improving after a month or two in the big leagues.
This could be the year that Taillon finally arrives in the majors. I, for one, can’t wait to see it happen. He’s a guy who I’ve covered for six years now. There were times when he was compared equally to Cole. Now it seems he’s slipped in value, and I think he’s actually at one of his highest values as a prospect in terms of reaching his upside. He started to show that last night. If that continues going forward, then you’ll finally get a chance to see him in the majors this year, possibly by the middle of the season.