Gerrit Cole burst on the Bucco scene this season and gave the rotation a much needed boost. In 2014, Buc fans are hoping RHP Jameson Taillon, 21 (his b-day is in November), will provide the same jolt of electricity.
The 6'6" righty was the second pick overall in the 2010 draft, and has progressed through the Pirate system in fairly rapid steps, considering he was just a high school kid when he started. Now he's on track to start the 2014 season at Indy (he joined their staff in August) after stops at West Virginia, Bradenton and Altoona.
He has a pedigree of being a Top Twenty MLB Prospect. Right now, Taillon features a plus fastball (sits at 94-95, touches 99) and a knee-bending curve that's just a little consistency away from being another plus delivery. Like all Pittsburgh pitchers, he's working on a change to keep opposite side hitters honest, and he also has a slider that's not on a par with his heater and hook. He's also working on the Bucco mainstay, the two seamer.
And he still has a couple of issues to focus on. One is a tendency to leave pitches, especially his fastball, up when he overthrows, which is tied into some debate about how he handles himself in jams. There are those who believe he's just not as effective out of a stretch, and others who think those situations are what leads him to overthrow. He has to slow down his game heartbeat, much like Cole is able to do, and trust that his stuff is good enough without adding any extra spice.
His walk rate and command could use some polishing, too. In a small sample size at Indy of just 37 IP, Jameson averaged nearly four walks per nine innings. That was, in justice to him, the only time he's gone over three walks per game in his minor league career. He said it's due to not giving in when behind in a count now that he's in the upper levels as blowing a blazer past a batter doesn't work in AAA. So whether that's a developing problem or a passing phase will be seen this season. But the Pirates want the big guy to last deep into games, and lack of command in the past has led to some unsightly pitch counts.
Aside from his youth and inexperience compared to Cole, Taillon still has to polish up his game if he's going to be the #2 in Pittsburgh. Picking up an effective third pitch, learning to be efficient in the strike zone and staying within himself are not really minor things in the process; they will determine if Jameson Taillon will be a top end or mid level guy in the Pirate rotation.
For all his sheer physical ability, his ERA in stints at West Virginia (3.98/3.37), Bradenton (3.82/3.70) and Altoona (3.67/3.34) has always been higher than his FIP. In three years, his record is 16-21 with a 3.72 ERA, not exactly the counting numbers you'd expect from a dominator. Make no mistake: we're not down on Taillon, but think that the brakes need pumped a little on the Cole 2.0 bandwagon.
For a high school kid, he's been promoted at a fairly aggressive rate by the FO, losing the chance to settle in and blow through a level. And the Pirates do have a pretty standardized teaching process for their pitchers through the system, which results in improved skills but not necessarily improved numbers, so the minor league line isn't always an obvious indicator of future success.
We're waiting for the day Taillon join Cole at the top of the Pirate rotation, and if it's in 2014, all the better. But don't expect Jameson to follow the same trail as Cole; the age, experience, temperament and skill sets don't match. He'll arrive soon enough.