Thursday, May 2, 2013

In-Person Account Of Jameson Taillon

I took a vacation day on Thursday and drove up to Altoona with my friend Stevie Numbers to take in the 10:30 a.m. Altoona Curve game. We talked about doing it during our dinner out this past weekend.  The reason for our visit was a certain 6’-6” pitcher named Jameson Taillon.

For those of you that live in Pittsburgh, the drive to Altoona has dramatically improved thanks to the seemingly never-ending construction efforts on 22 East.  Steve and I met up in Monroeville and it was a quick 90 minutes from there.  Unless I hit a wormhole or accidentally tripped the flux capacitor.  

We got to the park at about 10:15 and got in line for tickets.  We were able to sit directly behind home plate in the 2nd row for the price of just $12.  The park has been open since 1999, but it is still in immaculate condition.  It’s well worth a trip for a Pittsburgher to check out. Our weather today was absolutely perfect around 75 degrees with bright sunshine.

Taillon had a rough 1st inning, giving up 2 runs and 5 hits in the inning, but he certainly wasn’t helped out by his defense.  Alex Dickerson, nominally the right fielder today, made every fly ball and adventure.  He definitely allowed a double to become a triple with a poor route and he got turned around twice on another double.  He and Jarek Cunningham then failed to communicate on a shallow popup and that error resulted in a 3rd run to score against Taillon.

The Altoona radar gun is notoriously slow, usually by 2 to 3 mph, but today we were sitting by some scouts who were saying it was 4 to 5 mph different than their guns.  Using that metric, here were Taillon’s pitch speeds (they stayed consistent over his 6 innings):
4 seam fastball -- 94-96, touched 98
2 seam fastball -- 92-93
curve -- 82-83
changeup -- 84-85

Taillon’s overall line may seem just solid at first glance (6 ip, 7 hits, 2 er, 1 bb, 6 k), but he was only hit consistently when he elevated his 4 seam fastball.  When he was down in the zone with it, he got weak contact.  His curve ball was especially filthy today, but he didn’t feature it too much.  Primarily he was working on the 2 seam fastball and keeping it down, down, down in the zone.

Taillon’s speed stayed consistent through his outing.  His three-quarter arm slot was repeatable for all of his pitches and he didn’t tip his pitches by having different arm speeds or slots.  His best inning was probably the 5th as he seemed to pitch with aggression and purpose.

Here’s a portion of a video of his work against the Akron Aeros’ catcher Roberto Perez.  In this 3 pitch at-bat, he starts off with a 96 mph 4 seam fastball, a 93 mph 2 seam fastball, and then finishes him (after the ump breaks his concentration mid-windup) with a filthy 82 mph curve.

After watching Taillon today and tracking him through his career, I feel comfortable that he will be a successful major league pitcher.  He could probably muddle his way through the bigs right now as the Pirates’ 5th starter, but would be prone to ugly outing when he elevates his pitches.  I don’t think he will be a pure #1 ace, but rather a strong #2 pitcher.  The pitcher he reminds me more and more of is A.J. Burnett, which would be a fantastic result for him.  There is no shame in Taillon replicating Burnett’s career.  If Gerrit Cole can become that true ace (or even a very strong #2 himself), the Pirates will be far ahead of the curve.

As for the rest of the Curve....yeesh. Especially regarding the hitters. Adalberto Santos had 2 of the 3 hits today and stole a base. That's about all the highlights. I think Santos can make the majors as a 25th man/pinch hitter/runner type of guy. Not so much for the other members of the Curve.

Matt Curry and Alex Dickerson, nominally the #1 and #2 1B prospects in the system, looked clueless at the plate. Dickerson looks totally overmatched and is easily fooled by anything low. Curry has historically been able to draw a walk and work the count, but that has totally eroded this year. I can see why Mel Rojas is so frustrating, because he oozes tools and looks like a player, but at the plate he is constantly guessing at the next pitch. Gift Ngeope, a great human interest story and good on defense, can't hit AA pitching. Jarek Cunningham has stalled out as well.

Now I want to check out pitcher Stolmy Pimentel, he of the 0.30 ERA and the key prospect in the Joel Hanrahan trade, perhaps when the Curve come to Akron. Or go back out to Altoona, I suppose. It's a much better drive now.

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