Top pitching prospect Taillon's time with Pirates must wait a bit
BRADENTON, Fla. — On Monday morning in the McKechnie Field clubhouse, Pirates bench coach Jeff Banister approached Jameson Taillon and tapped him on the shoulder. The club's top pitching prospect expected this moment — just not this early in camp.
“He's got those big hands. He comes up and taps you on the shoulder, and you know it's time,” Taillon said.
Taillon was summoned to the office of manager Clint Hurdle. There, the door closed, and the former No. 2 overall pick — the Pirates' No. 2 prospect according to Baseball America —was informed he was being reassigned to minor league camp.
“It's tense as a young guy in there,” Taillon said. “You know what they are going to tell you. You take it like a man. They are straight shooters. They tell you what you need to work on.”
Taillon quickly changed into a T-shirt and khakis and by 9:30 a.m., he was in the minor league clubhouse at Pirate City, placing his belongings in a new locker.
No matter how well Taillon performed this spring — he has been slowed by a blister on his right hand — he was unlikely to break camp with the Pirates because of economic realities out of his control. If the 22-year-old is kept in Triple-A until mid June, the Pirates will avoid paying him an extra year of arbitration. Delaying his debut in 2014 means he's under club control through 2020.
Neal Huntington said Taillon still figures into the club's plans this summer, but the Pirates general manager said Taillon is in need of improvement.
Like Gerrit Cole, Taillon's minor league numbers have fallen short of his stuff. Taillon owns a 3.71 ERA over 382 career minor league innings. Huntington said it's important to note it was by design that Taillon often shelved his curveball — the pitch he struck out Ryan Braun with at the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
“(Taillon) could have racked up a lot more strikeouts had we let him throw the curveball any time he wanted to,” Huntington said. “But the goal is to put him in a position to thrive when he reaches (Pittsburgh), and in order to do that, the changeup (and) the ability to command different quadrants of the zone with his four-seamer ... are going to be important. We believe we'll get the results when the process improves.”
In 2012 in High-A Bradenton, the Pirates required Taillon throw 20 changeups per game. Last season the changeup quota was removed, but Taillon was asked to better sequence the pitch.
“It's come a long way,” Taillon said. “It's not a huge movement pitch. It's more like my four-seam (fastball), which is what I'm trying to get it to look like because that's my primary fastball.”
Taillon also has refined his curveball.
“It used to be like a spiked curve, but I couldn't command it,” Taillon said. “In 2012 when I moved up to Double-A, I started throwing the same curveball but I took my spike down. Same depth, same break, but I can just command it a lot better.”
Fastball velocity never has been in question. The pitch averaged 95.2 mph last season.
Taillon doesn't have to look far for silver linings. Cole, his spring training roommate, was reassigned to minor league camp last March. Cole started Game 5 of the NLDS in October.
“When (Cole) got sent down last year, he was upset. So am I. We show it in different ways,” Taillon said. “The main thing for me is to get over it and get to work. … They said in the meeting when you get sent down, you control when they see you again.”