April 13th. It was a start two years in the making. The Pittsburgh Pirates’ Jameson Taillon hurled six innings of one-run ball, and when he left the mound healthy and feeling strong, all of Pirates’ Nation breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Taillon is quite possibly the most intriguing Top 100 prospect in baseball because no one knows what to expect. Almost all prospect junkies know what he is — or at least was — capable of, but it has been two years and two major injuries since he has pitched in an actual game against live batters. That is quite the layoff.
If you are unaware of Taillon’s storied past, he was the Pirates’ 2010 first-round draft pick, selected second overall and sandwiched between Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Much like Harper and Machado, Taillon was expected to be a superstar in the very near future. While Machado and Harper have reached those expectations, Taillon’s career has been derailed — albeit temporarily — by injuries.
Standing at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, the now 24-year-old right-hander was a menacing presence on the mound from his first day in the minor leagues. His 2011 debut season would be a precursor of what to expect: high strikeout totals and low walk totals, the perfect combination of a budding ace. Where he struggled — if you wanted to call it that — was in the perfection of a third out pitch (as his changeup and slider were a work in progress), and his command.
Taillon reached Double-A in just his second season and he was nothing short of sensational. He made three starts to close out the 2012 season for Altoona. The righty went 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA, striking out 18 batters while walking one over 17 innings. Heading into 2013, Taillon was a consensus top-20 prospect in baseball.
2013 was an up and down season for Taillon. He reached Triple-A, but once there, he posted the worst walk rate of his career. Prior to his promotion, his 19 starts in Double-A would see Taillon at his most hittable, allowing more than a hit per inning while posting the highest batting average against (.257) of his young career.
He would head to spring training in Bradenton with the Pirates and be shut down with the dreaded elbow discomfort. It would be determined that his UCL had not ruptured or torn, yet Taillon would opt for Tommy John surgery. He would be shelved for at least a year, likely longer. As if to literally add insult to injury, Taillon returned in 2015 only to be shut down without throwing a live pitch as he needed hernia surgery.
Two full seasons. His age-22 and 23 seasons — highly important in any elite pitching prospect’s development — lost to injury. Would he still have that 90 to 94 mile per hour fastball? More importantly, could he still land it? Would his patented overhead curve with the big break still drop like it used to? Would all the progress he made on his Major-League-ready changeup be lost after not having thrown a pitch in a live game in more than 30 months?
The answers to those questions are extremely positive. So far… so good.
For video highlights, more prospect breakdown and projections for Taillon, head on over to Today’s Knuckleball for the full article by clicking the link below.