Taylor Hearn Could Make the Mark Melancon Trade Look Like a Steal For Years

CHARLESTON, WV – The Pirates have already seen some nasty results from Felipe Rivero, one half of the return in the Mark Melancon trade. The left-handed reliever has made eight appearances, throwing 7.2 shutout innings, with 15 strikeouts and 5 walks. The walk rate is a concern, although improving in his last five outings. The strikeouts, though, are pure dominance, backed up by a fastball that averages 96 MPH.

Rivero is under team control for five more seasons after the 2016 season, and if that was all the Pirates got for two months of Mark Melancon, then the trade would look like a great result. But that’s not all they received. They also have another powerful left-hander currently pitching for West Virginia, and his early results are just as exciting.

Taylor Hearn was no stranger to the Pirates. They drafted him in the 22nd round in 2012 out of high school, but because all of their money was tied up in Mark Appel negotiations, they couldn’t sign him. Hearn was made an offer early, but it wasn’t enough. He didn’t pitch his senior year in high school, due to a strained UCL, and that missed time, combined with the low offer, made him decide on going to college.

Four years later, the Pirates finally got him, making him the second half of the Melancon deal.

“I was actually pretty excited to see that the team that drafted me out of high school traded for me,” Hearn said. “This was probably the best place to be. I’m pretty excited to be here. Great guys, great coaches so far. Making improvements so far. I’m pretty excited.”

When Hearn was drafted by the Pirates in 2012, the reports were that his fastball velocity reached 87 MPH, with the typical projectable frame profile. He has since seen a massive increase in that velocity, which happened throughout college. He hit 94 his freshman year, 95 his sophomore year, and 98 his junior year. This all came due to gaining weight, and working in the off-season with his trainer. He continued the development with the Nationals, eventually hitting 100 MPH.

“My main goal coming out was to hit 100, and I hit it with the Nationals,” Hearn said. “I still want to try to hit it again, and continue progressing. The weight was coming, and the velocity was jumping up too. It was good to see both coming together. It was definitely a lot of hard work, trying to make it work, and still trying to make it as consistent as possible.”

The velocity is only part of what makes the fastball so good. Hearn pitches from the first base side of the rubber, and his long arms and high three-quarters slot give him a lot of movement on the pitch.

“Electric arm, man. It’s hard from the left side. 98 MPH, that’s special,” West Virginia Pitching Coach Matt Ford said. “He’s from the first base side. When he’s on time, he’s creating a lot of angle, and it just gets on you quick. It looks like he likes to throw it in on righties. It looks like it’s really difficult to hit when he’s in the zone right there.”

Consistency is the key. Hearn has seen a high walk rate and some command issues in his career so far, matching the issues seen by Rivero. But the Pirates are hoping that a few changes in his approach will lead to better control in the future.

The first change was minor, but effective. The Pirates coaches saw that Hearn wasn’t on line to the plate with his delivery, and was moving more side to side. Now that he’s back on track there, Hearn said his stuff is more in the zone and more consistent. But the bigger change might have been an adjustment to his pre-game work.

The Pirates have a practice of long tossing everyday, which is something the Nationals also had. But the Nationals allowed pitchers to extend out as far as they want, and Hearn would go out to around 200 feet. The Pirates mostly keep players limited to 120 feet. They allow some players to extend beyond that, but only if they show that they can maintain their mechanics.

The problem with extending beyond 120 is that it can develop bad habits. In order to throw the ball further, pitchers will arch it up in the air, rather than throwing it more on a line. When they take that down to the mound, they can start to elevate their fastball, with the arm angle pushing the ball up, rather than getting used to driving it down.

“It’s just a main thing we’re preaching to him,” Ford said. “Our philosophy with the throwing program, it’s something different for him to not go as far. But to focus hitting the belt, creating some angles, making sure his flat ground work is angled down, and down in the zone. Everything is down, down, down. We’re preaching that, more than anything.”

Hearn has been limited to 120 feet since he arrived, and he’s already noticing a big difference in the ability to work down in the zone and command his fastball by hitting more of the plate.

“The Pirates have a different throwing program than the Nationals did,” Hearn said. “The Nationals’ throwing program was good. But when I came over, the Pirates did things a little bit different. At first, I didn’t really understand. They’ve had success, so obviously I’m going to roll with it. … They go as far as 120, but then they throw flat grounds everyday, working on things, and that’s where I’ve seen improvement. At first, I didn’t really understand it, but after a couple of days, I saw my stuff be more consistent.

“I’m seeing a lot more in the zone, low in the zone. Getting on top of the ball, not really losing it so much. But definitely low in the zone. And it helps me out with the changeup. Because if I keep my fastball low in the zone, it will give the changeup a lot more of a better look, and a lot more swings and misses.”

I saw Hearn for his third outing, which took place last Friday. He had a few fastballs that were wild, but for the most part, he looked fantastic. He was sitting 95-97, touching 99 once. There are times when watching minor league players, even in the low levels, where you just know you’re looking at a Major League player. Hearn looked like a guy who doesn’t need much work to develop into a dominant late inning lefty reliever, just like Rivero’s upside. But the Pirates are obviously pushing for more than that.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RPCsXOgb2IY

“It’s a live arm man,” West Virginia Manager Brian Esposito said after Friday’s game. “He’s got a real good fastball, he gets after it. That’s big. The ball is on top of you, the velocity is big, and he commands it well. He showed some real good off-speed pitches as well. His changeup is really good, and he threw some nasty sliders in there.”

In order for Hearn to be more than a power reliever, he needs to develop his secondary stuff. A lot of the reports after the trade said that he had a promising slider, but didn’t have much of a changeup. The truth is that he has a good changeup, but just doesn’t use it because he’s working to develop the slider.

“It’s funny, when I got traded, to hear guys say my changeup was awful. I think it’s funny, because they haven’t even seen me pitch,” Hearn said. “A lot of people think my changeup is not my best pitch, but I’ve been throwing it since I was eight. A lot of the time I don’t throw it that often, so a lot of people think it’s my worst pitch, but honestly it’s my best pitch. I’ve been throwing it forever. It’s been a money pitch. The only thing I’ve been working on is my slider, and it’s been coming along pretty well.”

The Nationals coaches felt that Hearn needed a slider to put guys away, and had him really focusing on that. He always has a feel for his changeup, so he was comfortable abandoning the pitch to work on the slider. He’ll eventually mix the changeup back in when he reaches higher levels, but for now, it’s about developing that third pitch.

The slider is a fairly new pitch for Hearn. He threw a curveball in the past, but added a slider during his junior year of college in 2015.

“They switched me to a slider because of my arm angle, and it just took off after that,” Hearn said. “I was changing grips, trying to find something, and I think I found something. Now, the main thing for me is trying to find a consistent release point for it, that way I can keep it in the zone. Lately, I’ve been keeping it in the zone, throwing it for strikes more often.”

The pitch has a lot of cutting movement, with a steep drop straight down. That’s what Hearn looks for, trying to drive the pitch down in the zone. He’s starting to get a feel for how to accomplish this.

“If I start it at the catcher’s head, I know it’s going to drop in the zone, and it will have a good break. If I want to put it away, it will have a lot more speed on it, and less break,” Hearn said. “Right now, the way I’ve been getting on top of it, it’s going straight down and maybe to the right. It’s doing what I want it to do. I’ve just got to put it in the zone consistently.”

Hearn threw all fastballs in the first inning on Friday, which was shown in the video above. He started mixing in the slider in the second inning, and got some very encouraging results.

“For me, it was dominating stuff tonight,” Ford said. “I know we had him at 98 tonight, but he commanded it much better than he had his fastball the last couple of outings. Man, he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with, I tell you. He could have probably just thrown his fastball, but found some spots to throw some sliders. You saw what he did to the lefties. It was pretty good, played right off his fastball. It was dominating stuff. Fun to watch.”

For now, Hearn will stick in the bullpen as he eases his way back from a broken foot earlier in the year. The Nationals had him pitching long relief in his return, and the Pirates will continue this, as there isn’t much time remaining to get him stretched out. He said that the current plan is to get him back to being a starter next year in Spring Training, to prepare for the 2017 season. However, the Pirates already have him working as a starter as far as getting used to the routines and workouts.

“I think it’s a great fit,” Esposito said. “He’s got a good arm, and he wants to work. He wants to get better. He’s inquisitive about some of the things that we do here, and how the guys that we’ve pushed through have had some success and have reached the big leagues, what they do and how they went about it.”

Hearn is a high upside pitcher who might have the best fastball in the entire system, and that’s saying a lot. His slider is coming along well, and he seems to be comfortable with the changeup. If he only turns out to be a dominant lefty reliever, then the Pirates could end up getting 12 combined seasons of dominant lefty relievers from the Melancon trade, which would be a steal. But the Pirates are going to try to make him a starter, and if that works out, they’ll have a dominant lefty starter to pair with all of their power right-handers, making an already promising future rotation look that much better.

  • Seen him in person in his first appearance as a Pirate and yes, he’s easily up higher in the rankings with his fastball and other pitches.

  • Maybe NH does know what he is doing

  • This article is great. A couple observations about Hearn:

    1. Man, the ball really jumps out of his hand, and he looks like he drives it right to the catcher’s glove. The hitters were completely overmatched.

    2. His attitude about the coaching he’s receiving is excellent. He realizes he doesn’t need to understand why they’re doing things, that they have the experience and track record to be trusted, and he commits himself to what they’re asking of him. It shows his maturity, and it makes me think he’s going to keep getting better as he moves through the minors.

    3. Already having that faith in his changeup and the makings of a useful slider to go with that fastball of his, he’s basically more consistent command away from being a surefire starter. And the early indications are he’s making progress on that command already.

    I’m glad we got this kid.

  • Don’t want to get carried away, but he kind of reminds me of Chapman. What an arm!

  • Man I hope he works as a starter. He could be dominant. Maybe you could say an ace?? 🙂

  • In the off season I would love to see a comparison of different teams pitching programs and how the pirates compare. If you haven’t done one yet

    • I can’t do that.

      I know the Pirates’ program because I’ve been studying it for years. I’ve probably had 100+ hours of interviews that led to this knowledge, and that’s not an exaggeration.

      I’d have no clue where to start with other teams. I usually ask for differences when players come over, but there haven’t been many examples, since the Pirates haven’t been sellers much.

  • We’re talking about less than 8 innings from a near 22 year old in low A. We’re talking about less than 8 innings from a 2nd year reliever. i think its a bit premature to start laying the groundwork for declaring this deal a steal. If either of them gives up 3 runs their next outing, all these stats and assumptions mean nothing. It’s going to be years before we actually know anything about this trade

    • I always base my thoughts on the stuff on the field. Sample size doesn’t matter when you’re evaluating his stuff.

      If he gives up 3 runs in his next outing, that would mean nothing, because it’s not reflective of his stuff.

      • I’m sorry but if Hearn does start to struggle wouldn’t that have something to do with his stuff not being as stellar as it was this one time you saw him? I’ve seen Gerrit Cole throw a 101 mph fastball his rookie year, does that mean I should expect that level of nastiness every time out? Stuff can change over time, look at Charlie Morton.

        • We provide analysis on players over time. IF he does start to struggle, we’ll be seeing it, and writing about the cause.

          But you’re understating the work that went into this article, and forming this opinion. Aside from researching Hearn before I got to WV, I talked with scouts who saw him, had two very lengthy interviews with him which revealed info that wasn’t available anywhere, had two lengthy interviews with his pitching coach about what he’s working on, and the same thing with his manager. And then I watched him for three innings, and saw the stuff I heard about, which was much better in person.

          This isn’t just me seeing one pitch and making a wild claim. I saw a guy who looks like he wouldn’t need much to be a MLB reliever, got a lot of great reports, and my own interviews and research revealed some positive things.

          If you’re worried about the fear of the unknown change in the future, then you’d have to apply that to every single prospect, and every single player. But right now, this is who Hearn projects to become.

  • A special SHOUT-OUT to Jonathan Papelbon, you screw-up!! Thank you!

  • I love to hear Hearn explain his pitches and differences in how the Pirates and Nats instructed him. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a prospect do a better job of explaining what he is learning and what he does than what I heard in this article. Great job interviewing Tim and Hearn sounds very intelligent.

  • @piratesprospects:disqus,

    I would be concerned with the limited leg kick this kid uses placing alot of pressure on his shoulder….if he started driving more with his lower body, he might reach into +100 chapman realm….are the bucs working on his delivery besides purely for location and control issues?

    • The Pirates are all about using your lower half to generate velocity. This was only his third appearance, so if they are working on that, it might not be showing up yet. It’s also something that they’re not working on yet until they have a chance to evaluate him.

  • Bridgevillebuck
    August 16, 2016 5:59 pm

    Any chance they would sign Melancon at something team friendly maybe 5-6 mil. Can’t see him getting 10 mil next year without sexy strikeout numbers.

    • I can see him getting $10 M because teams still pay for saves.

    • Ain’t gonna happen, but you could do worse than give Melancon $10mm for another year.

      • No no no. It was already pushing it to go with same closer for 3 seasons. Closers don’t last that long. Go with Watson and sign a Feliz type (or Feliz) to have depth in the back end.

    • no chance in h-e-double hockey sticks does he sign for 5-6 mil anywhere. He’s been one of the best closers in MLB for a couple years now. ~$10MM or more is his number. Pitching is expensive.

  • BallHeadWonder
    August 16, 2016 5:09 pm

    Great Job Tim!! Again, I can’t wait to see this dude pitch!! Because Rivero is a Monster!! I was glad to see him work his way out of a jam last nite after the quick single and walk. His swing and miss stuff is already better than ANYONE WE CURRENTLY HAVE!!! He is our closer!! I feel better in the 7th than I do in the 9th!!

  • When do we find out who the PTBN are? We get 2 from Seattle and owe NYY 2. Is there a deadline for this type of transaction?

    Caminero has not allowed a run in 5 innings and no walks so far for Seattle.

    • six months from the date of the trade deadline

      • john,
        in your experiences, is the longer wait to announce sometimes suggestive of a larger prospect haul that the trading organization does not want to announce in the middle of a pennant race?

        • There would be no reason to announce it now. There’s still a little less than a month remaining in the season, giving plenty of time for further evaluation of the players on the list.

        • In the past a long wait usually meant a draft pick was traded and you needed to wait until he was eligible to be dealt. That’s not possible anymore. Likely the teams found a match for their player first and they wanted to scout the farm system better, which takes a little time. With Caminero, the Pirates and Mariners don’t play in any of the same minor league systems, so they probably don’t get as many looks at their players, plus it was a deal that had to be worked out quickly due to the waiver claim. The deals could just be waiting until after the Rule 5 draft. It would help if you got someone who you didn’t lose months later or someone you had to use a roster spot on

  • More great content to pad your VASC stat (value above subscription cost). Thanks for the interesting read.

  • Good thing the Pirates didn’t get Eovaldi….2 elbow surgeries and out for all of 2017

    • sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make.

      Personally, I never wanted him. He has always underachieved for his stuff. I had enough of that living through the Kip Wells era. 🙂

    • Wow, i was hot on Eovaldi as well, but, that would have sucked – wonder if that would have resulted in the trade being struck down? Glad we passed on that kid for now….

  • My main goal coming out was to hit 100

    That was MY main goal growing up, too, but you just can’t get a wiffle ball to go that fast. It took awhile to get over the disappointment.

    • Nice 🙂 – I hear you….I can’t even drive 100.

      This was a great trade. I advocated for it after what I saw the Cubs give up for Chapman, confident that one of the other NL clubs in that derby would be looking to match them with bullpen help. Caught a lot of flak from the folks who felt it was throwing in the towel this year, but the reality was if they were to make the playoffs it meant improvement from several others (and if they got that, they could overcome losing Melancon). Say what you will about NH, but he’s not afraid to make an unpopular decision.

  • Unlike a lot of people here and elsewhere, I really liked the Melancon deal.

    Rivero can be special and so can Hearn (even IF he only becomes a reliever).

    Trade one good reliever with 2 months to go for TWO good relievers with 5-6 years of control? Sign me up!

    • Eric Marshall
      August 16, 2016 5:06 pm

      Loved the Melancon trade… needed to happen. Liked the return as well. Was concerned with the Liriano trade and am still concerned about the prospects included in the Nova trade. Melancon was done end of year for us and we weren’t going to QO him.

      • I’m with you on the Liriano deal.

        I’m not worried about the PTBNL in the Nova deal as they are not on the 40 man, and I honestly don’t think it is anyone that we’re going to miss.

        Nova wasn’t exactly a top shelf pitcher, plus he was a FA in 2 months.

        Hardly someone to extract a “ransom”, imo.

        • you might want to look up john d. explanation of the PTBNL in one of the other threads….they can absolutely be on the 40 man….

          • I’m really hoping that the club told them here is a list of 6-10 players (not on the 40 man more than likely rule 5 types) pick two and have a nice day…

    • That was a win-win trade. Getting either one for 2 months of MM was a good deal.

    • Sorry, lee, while i do like the return, it still does not result in us matching up stronger against the cubs and cardinals this year or next…control does not mean anything if it does not result in championships..will add that I really hope this one doesnt bite us in the ass….i could just see the nationals and melancon closing out the buccos year – watson has been anything but a hammer in the closer role

  • Great article hope to see him develop
    With the lack of left handers in the system this kid brings great. value

  • Tim, where do you see Hearn starting next year?

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    August 16, 2016 4:01 pm

    A little off topic, but saw this a little while ago:

    “The Dodgers released infielder/outfielder Zach Walters following his DFA on Sunday, reports J.P. Hoornstra of the Los Angeles News Group (Twitter link). Walters received just five big league plate appearances with the Dodgers this season but slashed a respectable .276/.326/.444 in 366 plate appearances at the Triple-A level. Walters has plenty of pop, as evidenced by his 10 big league homers in just 181 plate appearances, but he’s also struck out in 36 percent of his trips to the plate as a Major Leaguer. Still, as a player with power and experience at shortstop, second base, third base and in the outfield, the 26-year-old switch-hitter figures to draw interest elsewhere.”
    We don’t have much in the way of power hitters at corner infield positions in the system, and this kid hit 29 HRs at the age of 23 in AAA in 2013. Should the Pirates try to snatch him up?

  • I’ve heard that the Bucs are thinking of trying Rivero as a starter next spring training. With 3 solid pitches, I don’t see why not. Tim, any truth to that? Is that asking too much of him?

    • I haven’t heard that. Huntington was asked that specifically after the trade, and he danced around it, but essentially said they like him as a reliever. But there was enough leeway and not enough of a straight denial that someone could say they’re “thinking” about it. That’s just not really accurate.

    • BuccosFanStuckinMD
      August 16, 2016 8:39 pm

      I think that would be a mistake…we have a ton of young starting pitchers, but we also need shutdown arms in the bullpen to try to recreate what the Royals had last year – Rivero and Watson are 2/3 of that 7th/8th/9th inning bullpen lineup – Nicasio or Feliz could be the third guy….

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    August 16, 2016 3:45 pm

    Yes, Hearn has tremendous upside – and he was the main reason I defended the Melancon trade – since we got two very promising young pitchers for two months of Melancon. The Pirates were not going to re-sign Melancon. Now, some may argue that the Pirates should have gotten more, especially when you compare the trade to the trades involving Chapman and Miller. But, as good as Melancon was and is, he’s not at the level of Chapman or Miller – and Miller isn’t a rental.
    Now, a lot can go wrong between Low A and PNC Park, so a kid like Hearn still has a long way to go. But, fans may very well look back on the trade, in 2-3 years, and realize what a great trade it was Pittsburgh. And that is not even mentioning what Rivero can bring over the next few years as well.

    • Just Rivero for MM is a win.

      Hearn is like getting free Powerball tix to boot.

      • Agree. He cuts back on those walks and he will be one of the best relievers in baseball….That FB – change combo is filthy.

    • I keep hearing that Melancon is not at the level of Chapman and Miller. I think that is based purely on strikeouts, which is a fairly shallow indicator.

      • agreed. that would be like saying Tony Gwynn wasn’t that good of a hitter because he didnt hit many home runs….Rivera made a HOF career by the late movement on his cutter and several hitters have remarked that Melancon is a beast as far as trying to center him up…

  • Tm, what happened to the Eusbio signing and other international free agent signings? Has the list been updated and why can’t we find it?

  • Lets give the young man a chance to develop all his pitchers before we start putting pressure on him to be something he currently is not.

  • I hate to ask you this but now that you’ve seen him In person would you slide him up in the rankings or say one tier higher?

    • I was thinking the same. Given his monstrous upside, it’d seem like he belongs in the Holmes / Garcia / Hinsz tier

      • And while we’re at it throw Hinsz up a tier for good measure.

      • One game is all it takes to have monstrous upside?

        • No? Did you not read the article?? Or do you not understand the meaning of the word “upside”?

          • Was I quoting the article or just your comment? Do you not understand how commenting works, or just how prospect list works? Prospects aren’t listed in order of upside. Risk is involved too. Safer prospects with lower ceilings are often ranked higher than riskier prospects with higher ceilings. So having “monstrous upside” doesn’t always demand a higher ranking

    • Probably so. We ranked him with room to move up. And he definitely impressed me enough to move up.

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