Saturday, August 21, 2010

Jameson Taillon

OK, now that the Bucs have clinched their 18th losing season, Green Weenie figured it was about time to intersperse the usual bad MLB news with some occasional glad tidings. And what gladder tiding this season than the signing of Jameson Taillon?

Taillon is a RHP from The Woodlands, the largest high school in Texas. The eighteen year-old was born in Winter Haven, Florida, on November 18th, 1991, and stands 6'6", 225 pounds.

Despite being born in Florida, Taillon is a Canadian citizen and the highest draft pick ever taken from that nation.

Taillon's parents, Mike and Christie, are both from Ontario and met as students at the University of Toronto in the 1970s. His mom is from Toronto, and his dad is from St. Andrews, between Montreal and Ottawa. Like many French-Canadians who were fans of Le Habs Ken Dryden, Mike grew up as a goalie, which served as great training whenever he played catch with his son.

The couple eventually moved to the U.S. to follow jobs, and as a result, Jameson and his three older sibs hold dual Canadian-U.S. citizenship.

Instead of learning to slap hockey pucks, Jameson starting firing baseballs

In 11 games as a senior with The Woodlands this season, Taillon went 8-1 with a 1.78 ERA (he lost a 2-0 game). He struck out 114 batters and walked 21 in 62 innings of work, and whiffed 19 batters while tossing a no-hitter.

Taillon made The Woodlands varsity team as a freshman and went on to post a 22-6 record with 282 strikeouts in 173 innings during his high school career.

The Woodlands has a reputation as a baseball school; they have a couple of state championships under their belt. One year before Taillon reached high school, Kyle Drabek graduated The Woodlands and became Philadelphia's #1 draft selection. Drabek is now Toronto's top pitching prospect after being a centerpiece in the Roy Halladay trade over the winter.

JT pitched in two high school All-American games, the Aflac and Under Armour showcases, and took home the MVP honors for Team One at the Under Armour All-America Game. He also pitched in the Perfect Game National and World Showcase games in 2009, and was selected to the MaxPreps All-American Baseball Team.

Taillon matched up with numero uno selection Bryce Harper; he struck him out on fastballs low and away, and a curveball in the dirt.

He led the USA Baseball 18-and-under national team to its first gold medal in the Pan American AAA/18U Championships in Venezuela last fall. In the championship game win over Cuba, Taillon allowed no runs and struck out 16 batters in 7-2/3 innings, setting a Team USA single-game record. Taillon went 2-0 with 28 strikeouts in two starts, and didn't yield a run.

Taillon was rated by Baseball America as the best pitcher available in the draft and as the second-best overall player among the top 200 prospects. In addition, they rated him as having the "Best Fastball" and as being the "Closest to the Majors" among all high school pitchers. BA also ranked him the 17th best draft prospect of the past twenty years.

In spite of the glowing reviews, the Bucco brass seemed torn between him and Florida high school SS Manny Machado. But the rumors were that Machado didn't really want to play for Pittsburgh, and the fact was that he was represented by Scott Boras. So hey, on draft day, it was welcome to Pittsburgh, Jameson, and hope you enjoy Baltimore, Manny.

Taillon made history of a sorts that day when he became just the third high school RHP pitcher to be selected with the #2 overall pick, joining Josh Beckett and former Astros great J.R. Richard.

He became the first high school player the Pirates chose in the first round since selecting Andrew McCutchen in 2005 - and McCutch turned out OK, we'd say. He's the seventh high school pitcher the organization has used its first pick on since 1970. Of those previous six, two - Rod Scurry (#11, 1974) and Sean Burnett (#19, 2000) - made it to the show, both as middle relievers. That certainly isn't the plan for Taillon.

His ceiling is that of a number one starter, potential that the Pirates lack at the major or minor league level. GM Neal Huntington has often pooh-poohed the thought of taking high school pitchers in round one because of their inherent risk, so by pulling the trigger on Taillon, they must agree with the draft gurus.

It wasn't that his signing was a slam dunk. First, he had committed to Rice, a dream of his for years. He comes from an academically strong background; his parents are collegians and he has a sister attending law school, a brother beginning his medical school residency and another brother who is a Ph.D. candidate.

Taillon himself is another Ross Ohlendorf in the making; he's a star in the classroom with a 3.85 grade point average, and that was with a schedule heavy with advanced placement classes.

Next, he was represented by the Houston-based agents Randy and Alan Hendricks. They get deals done, and for big bucks. Their stable includes Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Joba Chamberlain, Clayton Kershaw, Homer Bailey, and Rick Porcello. The brothers got Cuban lefty Aroldis Chapman a six-year deal worth $30.25M. They can play hardball.

And they did. He signed for $6.5M, the highest bonus ever given to a high school player and more than $3M above slot; Donavan Tate held the previous record of $6.25M from the Padres in 2009. Taillon's bonus is bettered only by Stephen Strasburg's $7.5M deal with the Nationals in 2009 (Bryce Harper got a bigger MLB contract, but his bonus was $6.25M).

And with his scouting report, it's no wonder. He's thought to be the best high school arm scouts have seen in the last few years. Taillon has the complete package for a preppie, with projectable size, and three plus pitches in his fastball, slider and curve, and a decent, if rusty, change. He's seen as a potential ace by most scouts.

And impressive as his stuff is, his makeup might be even better. Taillon has a good feel and presence on the mound, and wants to learn the little things. He was quoted as looking to improve his fastball command, his change, and pick up the ins and outs of pitching sequences to hitters.

His scouting report:

Fastball: He consistently sits in the 93-96 MPH range, and has touched 99. His heater appears to rise on hitters. It's explosive, and is already a plus pitch that could be plus-plus down the line.

His go-to pitch is a four-seam fastball, and he throws a two-seamer which has been clocked between 89-93 MPH with a lot of run.

Taillon sometimes has trouble keeping his fastball down in the zone, and the pitch will also flatten out at times, leaving it hittable.

Curveball - It comes in on the same plane as his fastball, and looks like a high heater out of his hand. It's a potential strikeout pitch both as a swing-and-miss offering and dropping into the zone with a 12-to-6 break. It's got nice separation from the heater; he throws it at 82-84 MPH, though he's also shown a slow curve in the seventies.

He gives it away sometimes, when he occasionally raises his arm slot slightly when throwing the hook.

Slider — Although it's also a plus pitch, the slider is a little behind his curveball. The pitch breaks hard left, but sometimes doesn't have much dive to it, almost like flipping a Frisbee. It's a great pitch in high school, coming in hard at the mid-to-high 80s, and could be another swing-and-miss offering at the pro level if he can get its command up another notch.

The pitch could use a little more consistency, as there are times you can spot the break soon after release before it bites.

Changeup - He has a circle change that was rarely called for at his level, and it's a solid if not overwhelming pitch at this point. He maintains his arm speed well and it's clocked 8-12 mph slower than his fastball with fading action, and it's a pitch he'll need at the next level.

Most high school kids don't have much command of this pitch, and he overthrows it sometimes.

Motion - Taillon throws at a 3/4 arm angle. His wind up and delivery have a lot of moving parts, as he starts out slowly while he lifts his front leg and then explodes. But the ball comes out of his hand easily and there's no hitch in his arm, so that doesn't seem to be a concern. The staff will have to clean up his landing, as he falls off the hill dramatically.

His body control and the repeatability of his mechanics are smooth, a rarity in a high schooler with such a big body. Sometimes Taillon can get a little jerky delivering the ball, but there aren't red flags on the arm action outside of flashing the ball some; generally he hides it well. The staff will have to work on his one bad habit of sometimes rushing his delivery.

Taillon's pitch placement lags behind his ball-and-strike control. He's generally able to get the ball over the plate, but he doesn't always hit the glove; he's used to overpowering high school hitters. JT can throw his ball to both sides of the plate, but he's more accurate to his arm side.

Overall, a pretty clean report on a big kid who's a stereotypical Texas power pitcher and who is often compared to Josh Beckett, his favorite MLB pitcher.

Citing the path taken by Beckett (who was also a #2 overall pick in 1999), Taillon has a goal of being in the show by his 21st birthday. To reach it, the right-hander would have to be in Pittsburgh by the end of the 2012 season.

While the Pirates and their fans would love to see that scenario play out, the first step for Taillon on his way to the show is through State College. He'll observe the pro life there for a couple of weeks and get to work with minor league pitching coordinator Jim Benedict.

Next will come the Pirates' fall instructional league. And as for 2011, Taillon will likely begin his season in the low Class A West Virginia rotation, though a stint in State College is possible, too.

Off the field, Taillon volunteers his time on the weekends to the Challenger baseball program that offers children with special needs the opportunities to be involved in organized baseball, much like our local Miracle League. He also enjoys playing the guitar, fishing, and hangin' with his buds, your pretty typical teen stuff.

Except mall crawling is a lot more fun with $6.5M to spend at the CD shop.


Jon Williams said...

Great write-up on Taillon, Ron. Thanks.

Ron Ieraci said...

Thanks, Jon. He had a lot of little write ups spread all over the web and media, so I thought I'd try to tie one big honking post together.

Now to see if the promise turns into performance. If he doesn't have any setbacks, I think it's possible that we could see him in Pittsburgh sometime in 2013.