Yesterday, I took a three hour drive down to Charleston, West Virginia, home of the West Virginia Power, to see former first round pick, James Taillon, pitch against the Hickory Crawdads (Rangers low-A). It was an exciting moment to see this talented 19 year-old kid in person, three years before Major League Baseball has any idea how good he will be.
And at 19, he is every bit as good as advertised.
The 6'7 220 lbs native of Texas is equipped with an arsenal of plus pitches of which he commands all of them extremely well for his age; a fastball that sits in the mid-90's with explosive movement, a devastating curveball which gives the true meaning to the word "hammer", a sharp slider with biting movement, more horizontally, and a changeup with good inside run on right handers (although that pitch still needs some work). He's still somewhat raw as a prospect. As you'll see on video, he leaves his fastball up in the zone a little too much, leading to a lot of contact. Since it appears he will spend the entire season in class low-A West Virginia, Taillon will have plenty of time to work on his fastball command. Nevertheless, if the Pirates remain conservative with Taillon's pitch count and he avoids serious injuries, they'll have their Ace as soon as June 2013.
Below is a rundown of his start against Hickory. I have videos for 4 of the 5 innings (my camera crapped out in the third inning and I had to scramble to fix it). I had to cut down the quality of the video to lower the size of the video. If you want an unedited version, go to my youtube channel.
What better way to start off the game with a first pitch out? Jurickson Profar, the Rangers' second best prospect according to Baseball America, took a first pitch fastball for a lazy flyout to centerfield. If you're scouting Profar, he is extremely aggressive at the plate looking first pitch every time. The out brought up Odubel Herrera who struck out. Taillon threw all fastballs to Herrera and after the foul ball, Taillon worked inside on Herrera before setting up the fastball on the outer third. Before the draft, scouts indicated Taillon needed to be a little meaner on the mound and it appears he is trusting his command to hit the batter's box but not the batter, when appropriate. The last batter of the inning, Josh Richmond, grounded out to third.
Result: F-8, K (looking), 5-3 10 pitches, 8 strikes 2 balls
After getting Andrew Clark to groundout to second, Taillon showed off his powerful curveball to strike out Villanueva. I didn't realize until I got home that the white background hides the ball on my video so I apologize if it is hard to pick up the pitch. After the strikeout, Taillon got Jacob Skole (#9 Rangers' prospect) to ground out to third.
Result: 4-3, K, F-8 13 pitches, 9 strikes, 4 balls
At 5'10 175 pounds, Alejandro Selen surprised the West Virginia crowd when he took the first pitch he saw for a ride in the top of the 3rd inning. The fastball was effortlessly crushed over the left field wall. After that, Jameson Taillon settled down and got both Deglan and Martinez to flyout, then got a ground out to first from Jurickson Profar.
Result: HR, F-9, F-7, 1-3 10 pitches, 7 strikes, 3 balls.
Herrera led off the 4th inning with a double down the line that eventually got stuck in the tarp on the right field wall. The Crawdads would never see that runner score as Taillon got Richmond to ground out before striking out Clark on another power curveball. Herrera stole third as Taillon did not look to second base to check him; normal for an inexperienced professional. The stolen base did not hurt the West Virginia Power as Taillon induced a ground out to third base to end the inning.
Result: 2B, 6-3, K, 5-3. 11 pitches, 9 strikes, 2 balls.
After giving up an extra base hit in each of the last two innings, Taillon shut down the third inning, completely. Skole struck out, Selen lined out softly to short and Deglan grounded out to Matt Curry (now with Altoona) at first. Taillon was effective, throwing just 9 pitches, 8 of which were strikes.
Result: K, L-6, 3 UA. 9 pitches, 8 strikes, 1 ball.
Overall, an excellent start for Taillon who allowed only two base runners in the first five innings of the game. Unfortunately, the radar gun at the ballpark was extremely off so I could not get gun reads for each pitch. However, I spoke with one of the scouts at the game who indicated to me that Taillon reached 96 mph a few times with his fastball. With that type of velocity, he can get away with leaving the ball up a little more than most of the arms in the Pirates' rotation. However, Taillon still needs to work on keeping the ball down in the zone and elevating fastballs in pitcher's counts. All-in-all, his command was solid. The home run was more of a result that Taillon started every batter with first pitch fastballs, likely a requirement from the development staff in the organization. When you see Taillon pitch, you forget he's just 19 years old. If his arm was conditioned enough, he could probably start in AA right now; that's how polished Taillon is for his age. It will certainly be exciting to see the franchise's first Ace since Doug Drabek once he reaches Pittsburgh.
Final Line: 5 IP 2 H 1 R 1 ER 4 K's 0BB 53 pitches 41 strikes-12 balls
Special thanks to my girlfriend, Maura, who made the trip with me and helped track pitches while I (poorly) handled the camera.