Welcome to the Show, kid.
Pittsburgh Pirates right-handed pitcher Jameson Taillon has only made three starts in his short MLB career, but he’s made an impression with each and every one of them — especially in his second start, where he had a no-hitter going into the seventh inning.
So what kind of future does the 24-year-old prospect have in the big leagues?
He’s had an up-and-down journey to this point. Highlights: second overall pick in the 2010 overall draft, striking out Ryan Braun in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Lowlights: Tommy John surgery and a hernia that caused him to miss two years.
Now, more than six years after he heard his name called at the draft, he finally got that long-awaited call up to the major leagues.
He earned the call with some good numbers this year in Triple-A ball (2.04 ERA, 1.81 WHIP). In his 10 outings, he walked a total of just six batters (he struck out 61) and made it at least six innings in nine of his starts; in seven of his starts, he allowed two or fewer earned runs.
Taillon primarily features two crisp pitches: a fastball and a curveball. (In his second major league start, of his 91 pitches, 87 of them were either fastballs or curveballs.) Taillon’s plus-fastball, which averages about 95 mph, is a thing of beauty. He has a swoon-inducing curveball that has a great bite and can do harm to batters, and he’s incredibly comfortable using it. He’s able to induce weak contact, which was clear when, against the Mets, he got 15 ground ball outs and had just one out in the air. And, as just a rookie, he’s got the poise and presence of veterans.
Ray Flowers, of Fantasy Alarm, wrote: “Taillon throws a mid-90s fastball that rates as a borderline plus/plus pitch. He can hit the high 90s when he jacks it up, and the ball tails into right-handed batters, helping him to get inside on many with that diving movement. He augments that heater with a hammer curveball that follows the traditional 12-to-6 break. The curveball is a true strikeout pitch. He’s worked hard to hone his changeup, though the pitch lags well behind his other two offerings. The change is slightly better than average right now as he continues to diligently work on it.”
There’s still some room for worry, however. It’s unclear whether Taillon can put together solid back-to-back starts and whether he can adapt to batters figuring him out. In Sunday’s outing, he allowed three home runs through three innings and was pulled in the fourth after 85 pitches.
And his arm remains relatively untested (especially after not throwing a pitch in either 2014 or 2015 after surgery). As a result, the Pirates have to be somewhat worried about his durability, especially down the stretch. It’s fair to say that he shouldn’t see too high a workload.
Taillon is a physical specimen — 6’5” and 240 pounds — and has a very long arm sweep. But, as Sports Illustrated’s Michael Beller said, “That can make him more susceptible to leaping out in front of his pitches, forcing his arm to drag. That invariably leads to a much higher pitch than desired. If you’re lucky, you miss up out of the zone. If you’re unlucky, you offer up a meatball.”
Right now, Taillon is a much-needed arm in the struggling Pirates rotation, which is tied for the second-highest FIP (4.71) and is ranked 27th in BB/9 (3.70), 27th in WHIP (1.42) and 29th in WAR (0.2). (Reminder: There are 30 teams in MLB.) Jon Niese leads the team with a 4.74 ERA. But with Taillon — and the potential of fellow prospect Tyler Glasnow getting a call up — this rotation has the potential to turn around.
Image credit: Adam Hunger/USA TODAY Sports