Gerrit Cole. The Pirates are lucky to have two guys that can claim that elite status. The second is my top Pirates prospect, Jameson Taillon. Ultimately, it's not much of a surprise that Taillon is one of the top prospects in baseball. His name was firmly placed on the map when the Pirates drafted him #2 overall back in 2010 as a prep pitcher out of the Woodlands High School in Texas, the same school that Kyle Drabek attended. There wasn't much drama involved in signing Taillon, although he did wait until mid-August to forgo his commitment to Rice and instead take a 6.5 million dollar signing bonus.
At the time of the draft, Taillon had an impressive arsenal consisting of four pitches, a fastball, slider, cuverball, and changeup. The slider was an impressive pitch that some pundits graded as high as plus. The changeup showed promise, although it was certainly a pitch that would need improvement. Ultimately, Taillon rarely threw either of those two pitches and instead relied on what Baseball America called the best two pitches in the draft, his fastball and curveball. The fastball showed plenty of movement and was clocked touching 99 mph, although it usually sat in the mid 90's. The curveball was also excellent, showing mid 80's velocity and a tight, power break. Physically, Taillon stood at an impressive 6'6 and weighed 225 pounds, suggesting a workhorse frame with maybe a tad bit of room to add muscle that could enable Taillon to improve his stamina and thus his velocity deep into games.
With their hands now on Taillon, the Pirates changed a few things going into the season and decided to be very cautious with Taillon. First, according to Baseball America, they scrapped his slider. Second, they kept him in extended spring training before sending him to Low-A West Virginia, where he would pitch the entire year on an extreme innings and pitch count. On the year, Taillon put up a 3.98 ERA, but also managed impressive peripherals. In total he struck out 97 batters in 92.2 innings and only walked 22 in that same span. In the control category, he was particularly impressive in April through June walking only 4 batters over that span in which he started 11 times. In addition, Taillon had a 2.29 groundball/flyball ratio on the year, an excellent number.
However, as is often the case with prep pitchers fresh out of high school, numbers and stats aren't nearly as important as scouting reports. Luckily, even though Taillon's stats were less than superb, scouting reports were often glowing. His fastball showed plenty of velocity - it sat in the 93-94 range and touched 96 when I saw it with reports of more from others - and plenty of movement. When Taillon kept it down in the zone, which he was able to do often, it was a quality pitch, easily earning a 70 grade. However, sometimes he would have trouble with his mechanics, leaving the fastball up and flat, resulting in the pitch getting pounded. Ultimately, it's a minor concern for a pitcher who can't even legally drink alcohol yet. Taillon's command is already good and he has plenty of time to refine it to the point where it's great or elite. Due to the Pirates pitching philosophy, Taillon rarely threw the third pitch in his arsenal, the changeup. The pitch flashed potential but was also raw and it'll be a big part of Taillon's development, starting next year. Considering his obvious aptitude for pitching and work ethic, all signs point to a quality changeup as a finished product. In contrast with his changeup, Taillon was allowed to use the second pitch in his arsenal, his curveball, more frequently. Also in contrast, his curveball didn't have to flash anything; it's a tremendous pitch. In fact, it was virtually unhittable. In the four or five starts I saw Taillon, I can't remember a player getting a hit or even putting a ball in play when the West Virginia pitcher threw his curveball. Tim Williams over at Pirates Prospects wrote this about Taillon, "I spoke with an American League scout about Taillon earlier this year, and got a great review. The scout called Taillon’s curveball the best in the game. Not the South Atlantic League. Not minor league baseball. All of baseball. If you’ve ever seen Taillon’s curveball, you’d agree that the pitch has to at least be up there. It’s a major league pitch already, and is making low-A hitters look foolish." I do agree Tim, it's most certainly up there.
Taillon has a lot going for him. He's got a frame that scout's dream of and plenty of athleticism to go along with it. He also has an impressive work ethic. Combine that with the foundation of two of the better pitches in baseball today, highlighted by his hammer curveball, and that is the makings of not only an ace but of the best pitchers in baseball. Taillon is far from that status today, but his ceiling is high enough and he's shown enough thus far as a professional to earn the ranking of #1 on my Pirates top 20 list.