At least until the end of July, his name is bound to pop up any time that the Pittsburgh Pirates are rumored to be in serious trade talks with anyone dangling anything relevant. Yet it’s highly likely that, as the dust of the July 31st MLB Trade Deadline clears, 2010 1st round pick SP Jameson Taillon will still be wearing the black, gold, and crimson of the AA Altoona Curve.
So what would it take for suitors to pry away the Baseball America #15 overall prospect from the Pirates, and has Taillon’s 2013 campaign strengthened or weakened his prospect stock, and long-term potential at the Major League level?
(Follow me on Twitter @jim_krug; opening image credit post-gazette)
The case for the Pirates retaining Taillon at all costs
1. With SP Gerrit Cole’s promotion to the MLB club, Taillon is the Pirates’ top-ranked prospect, and should at worst fall to #2- perhaps behind surging OF Gregory Polanco (Baseball America #65)- by season’s end. It’s highly unlikely that Taillon drops from the top 20 prospects in all of baseball, even with a slightly disappointing 2013 campaign to date.
2. Although he doesn’t work the 100mph fastball of Cole, Taillon’s repertoire is legit. The 235-pound righty’s heater has been clocked as high as 99, and sits in the 94-95mph range. Both his fastball and “hammer” curve have been rated as plus pitches– his curve legit MLB quality already- with a still-developing changeup and slider. Taillon not only has an excellent 6-foot-6 frame imparting a downward plane on his fastball, but also is able to control the pitch to both sides of the plate.
3. Taillon’s K/9- always an important barometer when assessing a pitcher’s ceiling- has actually increased as the righty has faced better competition here in 2013. Taillon has a 9.5 K/9 on the season, well above his 8.3 K/9 career average.
4. With Cole, Taillon, and lefty SP Jeff Locke, the Pirates have a potential young rotation core that can withstand the eventual departures of current veteran workhorses like A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, and Wandy Rodriguez.
5. Although Taillon’s AA statline this season- 3-7, 3.75 ERA- has been somewhat disappointing, it should be noted that other former top prospects like CF Andrew McCutchen (.710 OPS, 2007) also struggled at AA, yet their eventual Major League impacts weren’t derailed.
The case for the Pirates exploring a Taillon trade to add an elite bat at the deadline
1. Locke and Cole’s emergence as bona fide MLB starters provides the Pirates with at least 2/5 of a rotation for years to come. With 3 still very effective veteran arms, encouraging cameos from Jeanmar Gomez and even Brandon Cumpton, and other developing farmhands like SP Nick Kingham and 2013 sensation SP Tyler Glasnow, the Buccos’ rotation should be a cornerstone of the team for the next few seasons, even without Taillon’s contribution.
2. The Woodlands High School product boasts an impressive minor league 3.26 K:BB, meaning Taillon strikes out three times more batters than he walks. But while the righty’s career minor league K/9 (8.3) is a tick above Cole’s (8.2), much of his statline has yet to reflect an elite-level arm. For example, Cole was 14-10 with a cumulative 2.84 ERA through 2 minor league seasons; Taillon is 14-18 with a 3.73 ERA through 3. While wins really aren’t an important barometer in the minors, it is concerning that, outside of a 3-game AA stint at the end of 2012, Taillon has yet to post a sub-3.50 ERA at any stop.
(Even though Taillon was drafted out of high school, and Cole his junior year of college, Cole plowed through the Pirates’ farm system so rapidly that he actually mastered AA (3-6, 2.90 ERA, 9.2 K/9) at the age of 21- where Taillon is now. 21 is still an excellent age for AA competition, but Taillon’s struggles do place him behind the 2011 1st round pick Cole.)
3. Although other Pirate farmhands have struggled at AA, they’ve usually been hitters. AA Altoona’s People’s Natural Gas Field (formerly Blair County Ballpark) rates as a strong pitcher’s park, hampering sticks but bolstering arms. So Taillon actually benefits from his AA home accommodations. As should be some concern, opponents are OPSing only .600 off of the native Texan at home, but an alarming .837 OPS on the road.
Thanks for reading. In Part 2, we’ll explore some hypothetical Taillon trade scenarios across the spectrum, from a “definite deal” situation through a more common “When hell freezes over!” offer.