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Is Taillon following the same script as Cole? And Heredia gets in shape

CLARK BUILDING – Last June, I watched Gerrit Cole‘s final Triple-A start while sitting with several scouts behind home-plate at Victory Field in Indianapolis.  On that day scouts continued to wonder why minor league hitters were able to square up Cole’s 98 mph fastball. They wondered why his slider had gone on  hiatus and why he was favoring a early-breaking, loopy, curveball. They wondered why he wasn’t more dominant.

 

Remember, Cole struck out just 6.7 batters per nine innings last year at Triple-A. One of the scouts said something interesting to me that day. He said he’d rather have Jameson Taillon.

That assertion didn’t seem radical back in May —  back before Cole was a dominant major league starter in September and one of the top U25 assets in baseball.

 

Both Cole and Taillon had pedigree as the No. 1 and No. 2 overall picks in the draft, respectively. Both were what right-handed, top-of-the-rotation pitchers are supposed to look like: 6-foot-4-plus frames and mid-90s heat and hard-breaking off-speed stuff.

 

But back in May, Cole was producing middling results at the Triple-A level and often looked frustrated with himself on the mound. A year earlier at Double-A, he went 3-6 with a 2.90 ERA and owned good but not great peripherals in 9.15 k/9, 3.51 bb/9. His numbers were similar at High-A.

 

Taillon seemed to have a more feel for his breaking ball and was just a couple months removed from an intriguing showing against Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. Over four innings against an All-Star caliber Team USA lineup, Taillon allowed four hits, two runs,  (one earned), one walk and struck out three. His fastball was between 93-96 mph and he flashed a hammer curve.  Eric Hosmer and Ben Zobrist grounded out. Ryan Braun struck out swinging against a plus curve.

 

taillomn

Nothing has been done to diminish the ceiling Taillon possessed on the day he signed

 

Now the script has been flipped.

 

I’m guessing few scouts or execs would suggest they value Taillon over Cole. In fact, Taillon has fallen behind Gregory Polanco on Baseball America’s top 10 list of Pirates prospects. (I’d be curious to see how rival GMs view Taillon vs. Polanco. I think a case can be made that Taillon is still the top prospect. Top of the rotation arms are quite important).

 

After a dominant close to the season, there are few questions about Cole. The expectation is he will become the Pirates No. 1 starter going forward, and has a chance to be a dominant, ace, All-Star type if he remains healthy and extrapolates his second half of 2013 going forward. The question now is this why wasn’t Taillon more dominant?

 

Taillon was good between Double-A and Triple-A but he wasn’t great:

 

2013  Double-A:  4-7, 3.67 ERA  110.1 IP  8.65 k/9  2.94 bb/9

2013  Triple-A:    1-3,  3.89 ERA    37.0 IP  9.00 k/9  3.89 bb/9

 

The question about Taillon’s status losing some sparkle was the part of a recent chat on Baseball Prospectus:

 

IcePirate (Tundra): Seems like James Taillon got less love than he used to. What’s that about? And what say you?

Jason Parks: The realities of the developmental process can tarnish the shine of a prospect. It’s much easier to look sexy in the lower minors, where advanced skill-sets can produce seductive stat lines. But I focus on the scouting, and the process of development can often look ugly before it looks pretty. Remember when people were fighting for spots in the Bauer fan club based on his impressive minor league numbers, especially his strikeout totals, and the line for Cole thinned out because he wasn’t dominating? Where are the Bauer backers now? I don’t hear much from them anymore. That’s the problem with ignoring the scouting and the realities of the developmental process, which often affects performance and production.

I’m still high on Taillon. Has he lost some shine? Yes. But he’s also facing better competition than he did in the lower minors. I get asked about Taillon vs Glasnow a lot, and its a no-brainer for me. Taillon is the better prospect, and I think he will be the better major leaguer. Will he be Gerrit Cole? No. But I still see a mid-rotation type, one that gives you 200+ innings a year. Big value in that.

 

No. 3 starter status isn’t exactly what you want from the No. 2 overall pick.

 

But here’s the thing: while minor league numbers are often meaningful there’s a danger in reading too much into minor league performance without context. Baseball America’s John Manuel cautioned against placing too much stock in Taillon’s numbers to date.

 

For instance what the scout and myself didn’t know about Cole back in Triple-A last June is that he had begun working on a curveball at the end of 2012 as a way to create greater velocity separation. His paramount problem was that everything he threw was hard and he needed an off-speed pitch that would better disrupt batter’s timing. Cole’s curveball was still a work in progress in June. When he had refined the pitch by September – specifically Sept. 9 in Texas against Yu Darvish on the night of No. 82 – we witnessed what happened: Cole became the best starter on the staff – and one of the best in baseball – over the last five weeks of the season.

 

But in June, his performance was lacking because he was experimenting with what at the time was a below average pitch.

 

Developmental context is similarly needed for Taillon.

 

Remember, the Pirates were extremely cautious with Taillon to begin his career. He threw just 92 innings in his first full season in 2011. The gloves were on. In 2012, the Pirates challenged him by demanding he throw 15-20 changeups per game to develop the pitch and he continued to work on developing the changeup and fastball command in 2013. In short, Taillon could have been been more dominant in 2013 if he copied his sequence from the WBC over the course the minor league season: mid 90s fastball and hammer curve. But for Taillon to truly become an ace he requires a three- or four-pitch mix and command … not a two-pitch arsenal.

 

Said Taillon to our own Rob Biertempfel in Bradenton this week:

 

“Everyone says the highest jump is High-A to Double-A, but I actually noticed the biggest jump was Double-A to Triple-A,” Taillon said. “The higher up you go, I think the more fun it is to pitch and the more it’s about pitchability, working and reading hitters. That part of it was fun for me, a good competitive push for me.”

 

With that context, Taillon’s ceiling shouldn’t be diminished. If the fastball command improves, if the changeup comes, both very plausible scenarios, there’s no reason he can’t be a No. 2 or No. 1 starter. He has that kind of upside. The long limbs are there. The fastball velocity is still there. There’s no injury history. There’s been nothing to diminish his ceiling.

 

Is he the next Cole? Probably not because he lacks the 80-grade fastball Cole has and everything plays off the fastball. But there’s no reason to think, with two potential 70-grade pitches, he can’t team with Cole – as early as June 2014 – to form perhaps the most enviable 1-2 under-25 starting pitching duo in the game.

 

HEREDIA GETS IN SHAPE 

 

Speaking of ceilings, remember when the Pirates’ signed Luis Heredia to an international record $2.6 million with dreams of No. 1 starter upside?  Well that dream got derailed last year, when Heredia showed up to spring training out of shape, essentially erasing his 2013.

 

“I lost almost 40 pounds,” Heredia told Rob Biertempfel. “I’m at 240 right now. I eat better and take care of myself. I feel good. I dress differently, too. I had a 42 (waist), and now I’m a 36.”

While, Heredia got off track don’t forget about the upside that remains.  While he hasn’t shown the velocity of a future top-of-the-rotation arm in a couple years, there’s still the frame and precocious feel for off=speed pitches that suggests a future mid-rotation arm and there’s plenty of value in that.

 

- TS

54 Comments

  1. And, if Glasnow gains command of his pitches, esp his curve, which is plus when he commands it, then he will be following that same path.

    AA end of year and most of 2015, then AAA the end of that year, etc, etc.

    Sounds kinda promising.

    And then there’s that guy Kingham.

    NH and his scouts are God…. :) :)

    Now I just have to start praying they stay away from arm injuries!

    =========

    However, if JT doesn’t pan out, I will commence my ‘I wanted Machado’ complaints again. :) )

  2. As for Heredia, don’t fooget that he is still only 19.

    Thankfully, in my old age, I have foogotten most of the idiocy I committed at 19.

    Oh those rambunctious college days. I was the only one on our floor with a car, so guess who got to make the keg runs (they’d never invite me to the parties, tho….)!

    :) :) :)

    • Heredia looked last year like there were many late night food runs, Foo – except with his cash, he probably sent a clubhouse kid in his stead. But, he was definitely doing the eating! I’m glad to hear he is taking large strides toward getting in shape now.

      I still say Glasnow is a beast. But, I’ve never seen him pitch, and even if I did I probably would not understand any of the nuiances between him, Cole and Taillon.

      Taillon? I get all the “Don’t look at his numbers because he’s working on a developmental plane way beyond what any of you mere mortals could comprehend” stuff. But, at some point you need to start putting up sub-3.00 ERAs, low hit totals, and big K numbers. I hope that is what happens starting this year. Of course, if he’s another Cole, maybe I have to wait for gaudy stats until he makes a dozen MLB starts.

      Kingham – I just really like everything I read and hear about him. I have a feeling he is ultra-competitive, and all the pub the other guys get is fuel to him. That’s what I’m hoping.

      They probably won’t all pan out, but there’s no reason that 2 more of them after Cole might not become very good MLB starters.

  3. Ray Searage says he thinks Burnett will retire

    From Roto

    Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage said Thursday morning that he thinks A.J. Burnett will retire.
    “I’m on that percentage point where he’s not going to come back,” Searage told the Fan Morning Show in Pittsburgh. “Right now I’m leaning that way, where he’s going to retire.”

    • Steel…I posted that on the HOF blog (before Travis so rudely posted another blog :) :) ).

      Sounds like AJ wants to play, but his wife doesn’t. And we ALL know who wins in THOSE battles.

      :) :)

    • I heard that interview on the Fan

      Ray Searage did NOT say that he thought Burnett was going to retire.

      He said that at this late date he needed to plan his pitching staff as if AJ were going to retire.

      That article mis-quotes or takes Ray’s words out of context.

  4. I addressed this earlier. I asked basically the same question sitting down in the bullpen area of Victory field. I was told that they were working on getting the slider down lower in the strike zone and that was causing Cole to be in a lot fastball predictable counts. The Pirates really like to develop the wipe out slider.

  5. And when these guys get here, let’s be patient. Q. These are the rookie and sophomore year stats for what pitcher?
    W L WHIP ERA
    2 4 1.77 5.52
    6 14 1.64 5.61

    Hint: he was just elected to the Hall of Fame.

    Pitching, more than any position in any sport, except maybe QB, requires development at EVERY level. Even the phenoms usually fall back in their second year.

    • I was in an APBA draft league after that 1987 year. He went late second round ONLY because that team needed some starts (he started 27 times). (btw, these were somewhat similar to Fantasy leagues, except we actually played games against one another).

      Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. I got David Cone on the 4th round on a flyer after HIS ’86 debut.

      Then there were those who thought Marty Bystrom was gonna be a stud!!! :) :)

      Back then, all we had was the venerable Baseball Digest and the fledgling Baseball America to give us guidance.

      ===========

      Btw, as to us Pirate fans being patient………..isn’t that some kind of oxymoron?? :)

      • Foo Man Chewing,

        Baseball Digest . . . . . I still have all of mine saved in a box.

        • I have all of the ones that had the Rookie Ratings in.

          There’s a website which I used to have bookmarked (before I lost them all) which had EVERY cover.

      • When did the Bill James Baseball Abstracts start, Foo? It was around then, I believe. Would have been a much better guide than anything else on the market at that time IMO.

        • Jim S…I have no idea…back then we wanted scouting reports. The Abstract really didn’t help much. I don’t think I ever bought one.

          Maybe you can google it?

          • I started buying it each year around ’89. A friend mentioned them to me just as I was getting out of school. It was like a whole new way of seeing baseball that made so much sense to me. James was pretty revolutionary, whether people like him or not. For me, those abstracts were a great source of info. and he was a very entertaining writer. They were softbacks. Somewhere in my many moves early in my professional career, I think mine got tossed by accident.

            He blew up a lot of myths, I think, about who are good players and who really aren’t, how to judge offensive performance, etc.

            He wrote a book about 5 or 6 years ago, I think, where he listed who he thought were the greatest players at each position. Good stuff.

            He wasn’t the creator of Moneyball, but he was the original idea man behind most everything Billy Beane created.

  6. Errr, I mean working on the curveball and working on getting the slider lower in the zone. I seem to be typing faster than my brain goes today.

  7. Good piece, Travis. What you said there at the end about the Pirates potentially having the best 1-2 under 25 in baseball is why I am happy Neal Huntington has stuck to his guns. I am not saying I don’t like Giancarlo Stanton, but I would rather stick with pumping great young talent into the system and having the Pirates be consistently good than trade away half our great prospects for Stanton, and while being a great improvement immediantly, then being left with a guy who is going to command a large salary very soon, and he will probably just become a Free Agent as soon as possible anyway.

    For the Pirates rotation to consist of Cole, Taillon, and Morton going into 2015 is a good start, and there is not a lot left to add after that. Who knows, maybe they will be joined by a more consistent Jeff Locke and suprise guy like Brandon Cumpton. Also, don’t forget about someone like Justin Wilson being a rotation option. And then, adding Glasnow and Kingham down the road. I like that system a lot.

    Oh, and I also would rather have Gregory Polanco then Stanton too. Maybe I am crazy, but I like Polanco a lot.

    • Derek….loved your reply (and of course, Travis’ column), but Kingham down the road? Some think he could be here by late September (if needed) and possibly to start 2015. His command is tremendous, and that is half the battle.

      To start 2015 (barring injury):
      Cole
      Taillon
      Locke
      Kingham
      Pimental
      Cumpton
      McPherson
      ?????

      Man does that get me salivating

      • Kingham seems about a sure a bet as any pitcher in the system to be a quality starter that gives you consistent starts almost every time he steps on the mound. Maybe not #1 or #2 type stuff but definitely a useful guy to have on your team and know what you will be getting for 6 cost controlled years. I’m sure if you asked NH what player he was most confident would stick to their timeline of progressing through the minors it would be Kingham.

      • That staff would SCARE ME TO DEATH———not a starter over 24!

        Who is going to tell the rooks to STFD? And presumably no Russell Martin in 2015.

        • AJ “STFD” Burnett – via Go To Meeting and conf. calls. Paid Consultant, 2015-2017. Problem solved.

          He still needs to show up and pitch this year, though.

      • Well, scratch Locke and insert Charlie Morton

        • I have all of the ones that had the Rookie Ratings in.

          There’s a website which I used to have bookmarked (before I lost them all) which had EVERY cover.

        • Why did that post about the DIgests post twice? Weird.

          Steel….I KNEW I was missing someone…too lazy to look it up. Good catch.

      • It’s an impressive list and it’s important to have depth because attrition rate for pitching prospects is extremely high

    • Stanton is quite intriguing but I can understand why the Priates would be hesitant to meeting the estimated asking price

      • Something to think about…

        If the Pirates are to stick to their percentage of payroll theory, they aren’t likely to be able to afford Stanton by his last arb year anyways.

        They could easily trade him that winter to replenish some of the prospect stock they inevitably would have to give up.

        Two years of Stanton plus a couple top 10 prospects in return may very well be worth it.

        • That’s a nice angle, and I’m sure it was part of Travis’ thinking. I still say stick with what we have. But, the “eventually moving Stanton for prospects” part is interesting.

    • + many, Derek. Travis may remember all my tweets back to him when he was suggesting Stanton. But, I don’t think Travis lived the 20 years the rest of us have. So, he has a different take.

      • Jim, I think Stanton is intriguing and I go back and forth on whether that would be a wise acquire given the price for the Pirates. What I do know is a McCutchen-Stanton 3-4 combo would be awesome to watch for two or three years.

        • No arguments there. But, if means losing Taillon, Polanco and Meadows in the process, for example, I would not go there. I just don’t think it is in Huntington’s mindset at this point. He is now in full on Tampa mode. Maybe we can call it the Tampa 2. Oh wait, that’s already taken.

          • Actually, I probably over-shot there. I don’t think we’d have to give up all 3. But, an acquisition like that would definitely take 2 of those 3 plus someone else from #11-20, plus something like a #21-30. Don’t you think?

            In a Pittsburgh-like market, I’m a “hoard my prospects” guy.

  8. The Pirates don’t seem to concern themselves with overall minor league stats for pitchers. I wouldn’t put much stock into what any of their top arms do from the standpoint of how effective they are in getting strike outs or preventing runs. They are their to develop their secondary pitches even if it means getting behind in counts. It sounds like pitch sequencing is very low on their priority list.

    I wouldn’t sleep on Stolmy being a very effective pitcher moving forward for the Pirates. Searage seems to have a system that works for solving some pitchers control problems. Stolmy stuff is legitimate if he can keep the walks down. If Wandy stays healthy (that’s a big if) I am very comfortable with the Pirates pitching staff this year. If he doesn’t I still feel as if there is enough internal options to have a repeat of last years performance from our starting pitching. People forget that we only had Morton, Cole and Wandy for portions of last year. The staff is much more stable then it was going into last year even without Burnett.

  9. I can appreciate Baseball America deciding that Tyler Glasnow projects as a reliever for the reasons stated, but that seems a like a magic ball reading at this stage of his career. Now if BA could tell us what Apple stock will do in 2014, that’d be helpful.

    • BA never said that.

      “He’s the most likely to be a reliever in the top 10 because of his size and command issues. You don’t see a lot of big league starters who are 6-7.”

      Key phrase: “…in the top 10″.

      The four pitchers in the Pirates Top 10 prospects are Taillon, Glasnow, Kingham, and Heredia.

      Glasnow absolutely profiles as the likeliest to be a reliever out of that group, but that does not mean Baseball America actually believes he’ll turn into one.

  10. That’s an accurate portrayal of Manuel’s position on Glansow

  11. Clemson Travis,

    Excellent article and presentation!

    I was interested in your declaration: “the most enviable 1-2 under-25 starting pitching duo in the game.” Are you ready to make that claim? I would think the Miami Marlins’ Jose Fernandez and Henderson “No-hit” Alvarez might hold that crown. Marlins have two other young starters in Eovaldi and Jacob Turner in a wonderful starting pitchers mix as well.

    My heart wants Taillon/Cole———my head says Fernandez and Alvarez.

    • Harvey/Wheeler is better than both.

    • I’d rather have Jose Fernandez than any other arm in baseball right now. But I don’t think the Marlins’ No. 2 option is as strong

      Harvey and Wheeler was the topU25 duo — until Harvey’s surgery, and maybe it still is. But while TJ surgery is pretty routine, a quick return to form is not 100 percent (See: Liriano, Francisco)

      So I think Cole-Taillon stacks up at least near the top if not at the top

    • I was not obsessively impressed with Fernandez when he a Cole battled in Pittsburgh this year.
      He was very wild and if you had patience, you could make him actually throws balls in the zone and that makes him hittable.
      Don’t get me wrong, he is a stud, but Cole is too.
      Let’s see how the long term grades them out.

      I think Cole will be a Clemens type bull, while Fernandez is a higher risk of arm injury, not finess enough.
      Just my 2 Cents

    • You’re on your game, Groat. Fernandez is the best young pitcher in the game.

      And, I absolutely love that kid’s story. Multiple attempts to escape Castro’s Cuba on a raft before he and his family finally got away. In the middle of the night, his mom fell in the water. He found her in the pitch blackness and pulled her back on the raft.

      Very touching story on MLB Network where the Marlins owner brought Grandma from Cuba, unbeknownst to him when he won ROY. He had not seen Grandma since the family escaped and she just showed up. He credited her with being the one who originally taught him to play catch. That was definitely “no dry in the place” stuff.

      I don’t think the Braves are going to intimidate that kid because they don’t think he shows them proper respect! My money’s on him becoming a huge star.

      They could make a movie about his life already.

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