Pirates' right-handed pitcher Jameson Taillon was taken one spot after Bryce Harper in the 2010 MLB Draft. The career comparisons stop there.
Harper debuted at 19, won rookie of the year, made an all-star team and is the reigning National League MVP. Taillon missed all of 2014 after Tommy John surgery, 2015 with a hernia injury and fell out of Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects list this off season.
On Wednesday, Taillon began his bid to rack up similar accolades to Harper as he debuts for the Pirates against the Mets. The promotion is just in time for Pittsburgh, which sits 8.5 games behind the Cubs with a struggling starting staff. The Pirates' K/9 entering action Wednesday is second-worst in the league at 7.08. The staff's BB/9 is fourth-worst at 3.64. It's FIP (4.49) is fifth worst, next to a 1.4 staff fWAR, the second-worst production in the league (ahead of only the Reds).
Enter Taillon, who unlike fellow Pirates' top prospect Tyler Glasnow, has showcased impeccable control and dominating stuff in Triple-A in 2016.
Taillon's Triple-A line fits his scouting report — the control is evident in his walk rate and shows he's shaken off any rust from a two-season layoff. His fastball came back and has touched the high 90s again with plus secondary pitches, as noted by MLB.com's scouting report. The only things that remain to be seen are how Taillon pitches in extended look at the highest level, and his level of durability after missing two seasons to injury.
Pittsburgh's front office indicated this could just be a spot start, but considering the staff's performance thus far, the rookie can make a case to stick if he pitches well. His case Wednesday was fair one, tossing six innings, striking out three, walking three, allowing three runs. Not dominating, but reasons to be optimistic, including a showcasing his big bender of a curveball.
Pitching coach Ray Searage has a gained a quasi-cult following in baseball circles for the Pirates' ability to turn below-average starters into useful contributing arms, notable past successes include Edinson Volquez, J.A. Happ and Francisco Liriano. This year has been a different story and is what leaves the door open for Taillon and Glasnow to join the playoff race down the stretch.
Cole remains entrenched as the unquestioned staff ace, but from there, results aren't so promising. Nicasio can be touted as Searage's latest work, but he's not exactly lighting the baseball world on fire as Happ and Liriano have. Looking at the comparative stats to Taillon and it's easy to argue he could usurp Niese, Liriano and Locke at any point if he stays in Pittsburgh and puts up consistently decent numbers.
I wrote earlier this season that Taillon and Glasnow would provide an immediate boost whenever called up, noting Glasnow needed to refine his own control and walk rate. While his walk rate remains high in Triple-A, his overall dominance is making worth an argument that he too should be considered for a promotion if the Pirates are serious are about chasing down Chicago for the division.
Here's Glasnow's line, via FanGraphs:
Like Taillon, Glasnow would still mark an immediate improvement even if the Pirates handle the two prospects with kid gloves and reduce their innings as the season closes. We'll have to wait on Glasnow, but Taillon put his sterling Triple-A line to the ultimate test Wednesday and gave the Pirates reasons to swoon. The future in Pittsburgh may have finally started to arrive.
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