Pirates' top pitching prospects Cole, Taillon look to leave mark in spring training
BRADENTON, Fla. — For one afternoon, at least, Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon will be rivals.
The top two prospects in the Pirates' farm system will pitch the first two innings of the intrasquad scrimmage Friday at McKechnie Field. Cole, the top overall draft pick in 2011, is on the Gold team. Taillon, a first-rounder in 2010, is with the Black.
Cole and Taillon struck up a friendship during their time together last season at High-A Bradenton and Double-A Altoona. This year, the right-handers are roommates during spring training and their lockers are side by side in the clubhouse.
“They've kind of run with each other before they got (to camp), so it's nothing new,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “I think they feed off one another.”
Both are in camp as nonroster invitees. Neither is expected to make the team out of spring training — but don't try telling that to Cole.
“Until I get cut or they tell me it's not going to happen, I'm going for it,” Cole said. “That's my goal. That's why we're all here. I have no say over the decision, so I don't worry about it.”
Cole, 22, was drafted out of UCLA, and his college experience puts him closer to reaching the majors. Taillon, 21, was drafted out of high school, but most scouts say he joined the Pirates with highly advanced skills relative to his age.
The scouts also whisper — the chorus grows louder each time he steps on a mound — that Cole will be in Pittsburgh by the All-Star break.
“There's definitely that possibility,” said Larry Broadway, the Pirates' director of minor league operations. “He'll show us when he's ready.”
Broadway admits Cole was held at Bradenton for a while even after he was ready for a promotion to Altoona. Management wanted to make sure Cole was entrenched in the routines of pro ball.
“I had gotten things really simple at UCLA,” Cole said. “Things here were really complicated for a while, and I wasn't really comfortable. That transition took awhile — the different sleep schedule, the bus rides and everything. And I had to learn how to start calling my games because I didn't do that in college. It's pretty demanding.”
Still, two pitchers drafted after Cole — No. 3 pick Trevor Bauer and No. 4 Dylan Bundy — already have made their big league debuts. Danny Hultzen, the second overall pick, spent much of last season at Triple-A.
“You definitely take notice of it, but you try not too think about it too much,” Cole said, choosing his words carefully. “Different organizations have different philosophies, and different guys are in different situations. So it just depends.”
Taillon almost certainly will begin the season at Altoona, where he made just three starts last summer. He wasn't promoted out of Bradenton until he pulled out of a brief midseason slump.
“Things snowballed on me for a couple starts,” Taillon said. “When you're going through it, it seems so bad, like everyone's watching and judging you. I'm so tough on myself, I really thought I was doing terribly. But then I stepped back and realized it's not so bad. I had to just take a deep breath and then jump back in.”
Taillon was dominant during his brief look at Double-A, going 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA. He amassed 18 strikeouts in 17 innings.
“Once you hit Double-A, you really sense you're getting closer,” Taillon said. “It sounds so cliche, but you truly do have to focus on getting better every day. If you try to play GM, it catches up to you, and it doesn't really work out.”