Pirates' Taillon, Cardinals' Wacha make connection

Rob Biertempfel
| Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, 6:57 p.m.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Jameson Taillon and Michael Wacha were born four months apart and grew up to be high school baseball prodigies in Texas. They never met, though, either casually or on the field.

Their hometowns were nearly 300 miles apart, and their high schools were in different classifications. The Woodlands, where Taillon racked up 114 strikeouts as a senior, was in Class 5A. Wacha's alma mater, Pleasant Grove in Texarkana, was in Class 3A.

In 2010, Taillon was drafted second overall by the Pirates. Wacha opted to go to Texas A&M and was drafted 19th overall in 2012 by the St. Louis Cardinals.

In the winter of 2012, Taillon and Wacha began working out at the same facility in the Houston suburbs. It didn't take long for the two right-handers to become friends.

“He's a stud,” Wacha said. “I would watch some of the bullpens he'd throw down there. A big body, athletic. He can bring it. He's got some nasty stuff.”

Although Taillon had a two-year head start in the minors, Wacha beat him to the big leagues by getting called up last May. He dominated the Pirates in Game 4 of the NL Division Series, beat the Los Angeles Dodgers twice in the NL Championship Series and went 1-1 in the World Series.

“It doesn't surprise me he was able to take (the majors) by storm like that,” Taillon said. “I guess I was surprised he got up there so quickly. But he has that attitude that no challenge is too big. He's calm, a real quiet guy. He made the most of his opportunity.”

This past offseason, Wacha got a place about five minutes away from Taillon's home in The Woodlands. In addition to training together, Taillon and Wacha often went fishing and golfing.

“He seemed like the same dude,” Taillon said. “It was impressive. He wasn't big-headed or anything. He was still the same quiet, humble guy.”

Even though they're in spring training camps on opposite sides of Florida, Taillon and Wacha keep in touch by connecting online to play the “Call of Duty” video game.

“He is the better ‘Call of Duty' player,” Wacha said. “I've been working on it. He recently upgraded to (PlayStation) PS4, so I've got to go get a PS4 pretty soon so I can still game with him.”

Notes: Taillon was among 15 pitchers who threw their first rounds of live batting practice Thursday at Pirate City. Working with catcher Tony Sanchez, Taillon faced Russell Martin, Alen Hanson and Michael Martinez. Other pitchers who threw were Wandy Rodriguez, Jeanmar Gomez and Duke Welker. ... Former Pirates pitcher Jeff Karstens, who remains unsigned, was at Pirate City. Karstens, who's on the mend from shoulder surgery last June, is in a rehab program and had a throwing session critiqued by Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage. Karstens plans to pitch for scouts next month in hopes of landing a contract. … MLB Network will broadcast the Pirates-Phillies spring training game live at 1 p.m. March 16. MLB Network also will show six other games on tape delay: vs. the Yankees at 9 p.m. Feb 27, vs. the Blue Jays at 10 a.m. March 1, vs. the Phillies at 10 a.m. March 3, vs. the Twins at 7 a.m. March 13, vs. the Twins at 2 a.m. March 27 and vs. the Yankees at 6 p.m. March 27.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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