We’re always adjusting our approach to evaluating prospects on the site, as that should be a constantly evolving process. We learn from mistakes, evaluate what methods worked out, and along the way some individual players can really shape our future coverage.
Perhaps no one changed our approach more than Jameson Taillon.
Back in 2012, Taillon was making the jump to Bradenton. In his 2011 debut, he didn’t have the dominant numbers you’d expect from a potential future top of the rotation guy. He went to Bradenton and got off to a great start, showing absolutely dominant numbers through his first seven starts.
Taillon then went through a rough stretch lasting nearly two months where his results were anything but dominant. The numbers raised concern among Pirates fans who were hoping that the young pitcher would eventually lead the rotation. If Taillon was struggling to put up good numbers in High-A, then how good could he be in the future?
At that point in the site’s history, we had limited live coverage, while also having contributors who didn’t even see the players and just scouted the stat line. Taillon actually changed that approach. I traveled down to Bradenton to watch him pitch and see what he was working on. The answer shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has followed my writing over the years — he was working on the early stages of the evolution of his delivery, while also putting a huge focus on developing the changeup.
While I was writing that his stats didn’t reflect his future, and reported on what he was focused on, we were also publishing articles stating the contrary, that his stats were a concern, without any focus on the information we had as his development. The following year we increased our live coverage to every team and added a rule: If you didn’t cover games, you couldn’t write about the players. That rule was very much influenced by Taillon, as his 2012 season showed a big flaw with only scouting the stat line.
That season for Taillon also provided an important lesson about how to evaluate the stats for a player, even when you do know the story behind the numbers.
You should mind the stats. But in time, they really don’t matter.
Taillon was three different pitchers that year. At the start of the year, when he was dominant, he was pitching in a way that would yield 2012 results in High-A, but wouldn’t lead to results down the road. When he started working on adjustments over the next two months, he was transitioning into a different pitcher who would eventually go on to have the success he’s had so far in his brief MLB career. And by the end of the season, he was starting to become that pitcher who would eventually go on to reach the majors with the promise that was expected when he was drafted.
The stats were important at the time. But once Taillon started making changes to his approach in mid-May, the early season stats no longer mattered. They were from a pitcher that he was transitioning away from. Once he started getting out of the woods with the developmental changes, those two months of struggle didn’t matter. They were from a pitcher in transition, and didn’t reflect the pitcher he was going forward.
Baseball is a game of adjustments, but throughout the minor leagues you see that at extreme lengths. Players develop in the span of months or weeks, and a player you see at the end of the season will look like a completely different player than the one you saw at the start of the year. Prospects are always being adjusted against, and always making their own counter-adjustments. As that happens, they start developing into a new player, and the old results can be thrown out the window as obsolete.
I’m writing all of this because I thought about doing an article looking at some of the players who have surprised so far in April — like Calvin Mitchell, Jason Martin, Travis MacGregor (pictured above) — and some of the players who have struggled — Kevin Newman, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Lolo Sanchez — along with the story behind their success or struggles. But before writing that up, I felt it was important to add the disclaimer that the first month of the season doesn’t matter, good or bad, since most of these players will be totally different prospects by the end of the year.
The key thing to focus on isn’t the stat line over a given time frame, or necessarily what the player is working on at the moment. The key focus is seeing how a player progresses over time, what kind of player he turns into, and whether the changes and adjustments he’s making are for the better or for the worse.
I will highlight some of the good and bad stories in tomorrow morning’s article, looking beyond the stats and looking at their results, while also trying to project out what they need to do going forward.
Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates lost 6-2 to the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday evening. The Pirates will send Trevor Williams to the mound for his fifth start. He allowed two runs over six innings in his start against the Rockies this week. In his previous start, he gave up one run over six innings against the Cubs. The Phillies will counter with 25-year-old right-handed pitcher Nick Pivetta, who has a 2.49 ERA in four starts, with 21 strikeouts and an 0.97 WHIP in 21.2 innings.
The minor league schedule includes the third start from Taylor Hearn, who has allowed one run over 11 innings. After throwing five shutout innings in his debut, Hearn gave up one run over six frames, with no walks and seven strikeouts. He is holding batters to a .139 average. Nick Kingham makes his fourth start and he hopes to make it four strong starts in a row. He allowed two runs over six innings in his last game. Eduardo Vera also makes his third start and he’s coming off an outing of one run over six innings, with two hits and no walks allowed. Ike Schlabach will make his second start for West Virginia. He has also made three relief appearances.
MLB: Pittsburgh (12-8) @ Phillies (12-7) 1:35 PM
Probable starter: Trevor Williams (1.93 ERA, 14:10 SO/BB, 23.1 IP)
AAA: Indianapolis (7-6) vs Charlotte (6-9) 1:35 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Nick Kingham (1.59 ERA, 21:4 SO/BB, 17.0 IP)
AA: Altoona (7-6) vs Richmond (11-4) 2:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Taylor Hearn (0.82 ERA, 11:3 SO/BB, 11.0 IP)
High-A: Bradenton (10-6) vs Fort Myers (8-8) 1:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Eduardo Vera (3.18 ERA, 13:3 SO/BB, 17.0 IP)
Low-A: West Virginia (10-6) vs Asheville (3-13) 2:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Ike Schlabach (5.91 ERA, 8:4 SO/BB, 10.2 IP)
From Friday night in Indianapolis, Austin Meadows and Kevin Newman hit two completely different doubles. Meadows crushes one to straight away center…
Squaring up 97 from @MLBPipeline's No. 10 overall prospect?
— Indianapolis Indians (@indyindians) April 21, 2018
…while Newman makes the right fielder pay for his lackadaisical effort
— Indianapolis Indians (@indyindians) April 21, 2018
4/21: Sergio Cubilete placed on disabled list. Hunter Stratton added to West Virginia roster.
4/20: Pablo Reyes promoted to Indianapolis. Brett McKinney assigned to Morgantown.
4/20: Kevin Krause released. Bralin Jackson and Jordan George added to Altoona roster.
4/20: AJ Schugel assigned to Indianapolis on rehab.
4/18: Dylan Prohoroff placed on West Virginia DL. Matt Seelinger added to WV roster.
4/17: Brent Gibbs retired.
4/16: Jesus Liranzo activated from Altoona disabled list. Sam Street assigned to Morgantown.
4/14: Pirates claim Enny Romero off of waivers.
4/13: Kyle Crick and Richard Rodriguez recalled. Clay Holmes and Josh Smoker sent to Indianapolis.
4/12: AJ Schugel assigned to Bradenton on rehab
4/11: Pirates sign Denny Roman and Cristian Charle
4/10: Bryan Reynolds placed on Altoona disabled list. Jason Martin activated from DL.
THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY
Two former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, and one Opening Day of note. The two former players both have longevity attached to their career. Mickey Vernon played in four different decades, starting in 1939 and ending in 1960 as a September pinch-hitter for the Pirates. He was actually the first base coach during that World Series winning season, but the Pirates activated him in September and he was used nine times. Vernon had a career that should get him Hall of Fame consideration, especially since he had 2,495 hits and over 1,300 RBIs, yet missed two years of his career while serving in WWII. The year after he returned from service, he won the AL batting title, so there is a good chance he would have added significantly to those numbers that look good without the two missing seasons.
The other player born on this date is Jake Pitler, an infielder for the 1917-18 Pirates. Those two seasons were his entire big league career, but he played in the minors until 1936 and managed for 17 seasons as well. Pitler was a regular for the Pirates in 1917, playing 109 games. The next season, he played just two games before the Pirates assigned him to the Jersey City Skeeters of the International League in early June. He left that team shortly after to join the war effort.
On this date in 1891, the Pittsburgh Pirates opened up their season with their new revamped lineup, but lost to Chicago in front of 5,500 fans by a 7-6 score. The Pirates had four Hall of Famers in their lineup, and another player who could still make it someday. First baseman Jake Beckley and pitcher Pud Galvin are in the HOF as players, while catcher Connie Mack and center fielder Ned Hanlon are in as managers. Left fielder Pete Browning was one of the top hitters of his day and he is the original Louisville Slugger. He has received some HOF support in the past and could get another push in the future.