By Jason Shetler
p/c: Jon Durr – Getty Images
After being selected by the Pirates second overall in the 2010 MLB Draft, Jameson Taillon instantly became the top pitching prospect in the organization. Taillon was projected to join the Pirates at some point in 2014, but Tommy John surgery during Spring Training of that year put a huge damper on those plans. He was able to make a full recovery in 2015, however, he had another setback, this time undergoing a hernia procedure.
Despite missing two full seasons of pro ball, Taillon pitched lights out for AAA Indianapolis in 2016, as he put up a 2.04 ERA and a WHIP of 0.81 in 10 starts. He finally arrived to Pittsburgh in early June. Taillon made 18 starts with the Pirates, posting a 3.38 ERA, along with a 123 ERA+ and a 1.12 WHIP. His control was excellent, as he posted a BB/9 of 1.5, which was tops among MLB rookies with a minimum of 100 innings pitched.
Taillon entered 2017 looking to build off his impressive rookie campaign. Unfortunately, he went through another setback. In early May, Taillon was sent to the disabled list. The diagnosis originally was a groin injury, but further tests revealed that he had testicular cancer. Shortly after, Taillon was cancer free and returned to the Pirates five weeks later, which was truly amazing. All told, he made 25 starts, putting up a 4.44 ERA. Taillon’s other peripherals painted a better picture, with a 3.48 FIP and 3.89 xFIP. He also dealt with unfortunate luck in most of his outings, posting a BABIP of .352. The strikeout rate improved for Taillon, as he put up an 8.4 K/9 compared to his 2016 mark of 7.4, but the walk rate doubled from 1.5 to 3.1. Overall, he still managed to have a 2.9 WAR.
Now with Gerrit Cole no longer in the equation, the Pirates will look to count on Taillon to be their ace of the pitching staff. While his ERA was over four last season, the other metrics were much more positive. Even with the setback, Taillon’s velocity was strong, as he registered 95.8 mph on average with the four-seam fastball, while the average velocity on his two-seam fastball was 95.5 mph. If Taillon is able to cut back down on the walks and maintain his solid strikeout rate, in addition to displaying terrific velocity on his fastballs to go along with his plus curveball, then there’s no reason to think that he can’t take that next step and perform at an All-Star level in 2018.