SOUTH HILLS – The Pirates paraded their front-of-the-rotation future before the good citizens of Dunedin, Fla. this afternoon, as Jameson Taillon followed Gerrit Cole on the mound. Spring training stats hold the value of Confederate currency, but Taillon did throw two clean innings. He threw strikes. More interesting is what ESPN’s Jayson Stark passed along from one scout:
Taillon zipped thru 2 IP so easily, may not need to shower, allowing just check-swing IF single. "Like him better than Cole," said one scout
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) February 28, 2014
After watching Cole’s September and October, after watching him improve his velocity separation, pound the strike zone with 95-100 mph fastballs, pitch with no fear, miss bats, and showcase general beastliness, I assumed most in the baseball community would prefer Cole.
Now, perhaps the scout Stark spoke with had something of an outlier opinion. Perhaps he went on vacation after the end of the minor league seasons. But here’s the thing, it’s not the first time we’ve heard this assessment.
I’ve told this tale before, but when I was watching Cole’s last Triple-A start in Indy last June before he was called up, I sat with the scouts at Victory Field. One of the scouts on that day also said he preferred Taillon. Now remember at the time Cole wasn’t missing many bats, many were wondering why the results weren’t matching the raw stuff. But after Cole’s September and October when he averaged 10 strike outs per nine and was dominant in the season’s most critical stretch I figured most of those opinions had changed. But maybe not.
Maybe these opinions will remain static until we get more information on both pitchers. Maybe there’s not a clear 1 or 2 in the Cole-Taillon pecking order. (I still think there is .. Taillon cannot average 96 mph like Cole).
.@Sawchik_Trib: Polled 10 scouts/managers when both were in FSL. Majority preferred Cole, but it was close. Don't think that's changed much
— JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36) February 28, 2014
Taillon is a bit taller, a bit longer than Cole. He can produce better extension. His breaking pitch has better shape and has been a more consistent offering and he also has an improved changeup. He has a bit of projection left. I prefer Cole, but I suppose I can see why some might prefer Taillon. (The scout noted to me that he thought Taillon had an awful defense behind him at Altoona, which affected his numbers). Moreover, I don’t think the scouts were really knocking Cole. More than anything they were envious of Cole-Taillon duo, which is perhaps the best 1-2 Under25 starting pitcher duo in baseball.
And just as Cole was something of a savior last June for the Pirates, Taillon might be required to be critical second-half reserve in 2014.
See you in June, Jameson.
UPDATING THE ANDREW LAMBO PROJECT
Much of the focus surrounding the question of whether or not Andrew Lambo could be a legit platoon partner for Gaby Sanchez focused on whether or not he could hit enough to be something of a league-average bat at first. We have a very small sample size suggesting the power is real. We know he’ll strike out. That’s about it.
Not enough attention has been focused on defense, and on ThursdayLambo made several nice picks around the bag and generally acquitted himself adequately around the bag. That’s a big first step in the Andrew Lambo Project.
This is a big deal because if Lambo is to be a true platoon partner he’s going to see a lot of time in the field penciled in against right-handed pitching. If he has an average bat but below-average defense he’ll be a liability. If he has a below-average bat and a below-average glove, that’s a big problem. That means he is a below-replacement-level player and will hurt at team that figures to be on the contention bubble.
With 600 at bats, the Oliver projection thinks Lambo would hit 26 home runs, get on base at a .290 clip and strike out in a third of his plate appearances. I think that is all plausible. It’s harder to project the glove. But it appears Lambo passed his first test on Thursday. If he keeps it up, he lessons the need for a Justin Smoak, Ike Davis or Mitch Moreland. It’s a story line to watch this spring.