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RHP Jameson Taillon (The Woodlands HS, Texas)
- heavy 92-94 FB; also seen at easy 93-95; most recently hit 96-97
- plus 77-84 CB; 75-76 maybe?
- underutilized 76 CU with real potential
- 83-84 with SF
- plus command
- 6-7, 230 pounds
- popular comps include Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Josh Beckett, and, wait for it, Roger Clemens…
[Before I get to all of the drawn out prose I had originally planned, let me add this late edit that doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the piece, but was too good to let pass. Random Anonymous Scout (so take it for what it’s worth) told me the other day that Jameson Taillon could currently pitch out of a big league bullpen and hold his own. Pretty high praise, I thought. It also reinforces the idea in my head that Taillon is the 2010 version of Tanner Scheppers, another talented fastball/power curve guy that I thought could pitch out of the bullpen from day one if called upon. For the record, I don’t advocate either guy pitching exclusively out of the bullpen professionally, although I get why it makes sense for Scheppers to go that route. Anyway, back to your regularly scheduled Taillon scouting profile…]
The first sentence in my entirely hypothetical yet undoubtedly terrible essay entitled “Why I Love Following Pro Sport Draft(s)” might go a little something like this: “There’s a very obvious thrill that comes in forever chasing the next big thing…” One of my favorite parts of following the respective drafts in all of the major sports is the lack of and/or conflicting information out there about certain players. This isn’t so much a problem with NBA and NFL draft coverage where the college game is televised seemingly every day of the calendar year, and I can never personally name more than 3 players in a given NHL Draft, but the Rule 4 MLB Draft is different. Sure, baseball’s draft coverage has become more prevalent what with the rise of many quality rogue handsome bloggers — which reminds me that I have to update the sidebar links in the coming days — in conjunction with increased output from the major media standbys (BA/Kevin Goldstein/Keith Law), but information regarding the skills of specific draft prospects, high school guys mostly, can be very, very hard to find, especially outside of the top handful of big name prospects. I like that. I like the mystery that comes with nobody having a 100% idea of the ins and outs of a player’s particular skill set.
(Incidentally, one of my ideas for “proving” the NBA and NFL Drafts get more coverage than the MLB counterpart was by comparing Google hits for each phrase. I figured “NFL Draft” would have the most by far, “NBA Draft” would be a clear second, and either “MLB Draft” or “NHL Draft” would bring up the rear. How wrong I was. “MLB Draft” produced more hits than any of the others. Go figure.)
The lack of concrete information regarding specific players makes following the baseball draft all the more rewarding in the end. You can really come up with just about any wacky justification about why you prefer Player X over Player Y as long as you can back it up with some kind of reasoned argument. It’s damn hard to say with any kind of certainty that any one player is definitely, absolutely, positively a better prospect than another; there are too many variables at play. Prefer Player X? Fine, but tell me why. Hope your team drafts Player Y? Alright by me, so long as you can explain the relative pros and cons of the two.
There normally is more exposure given to college athletes and certainly more of a significant statistical base to draw from, so arguments over which college players make the best pro prospects have more of a “right/wrong” feel to them. Arguments about prep players, however, can be spun in any number of directions. With limited and/or conflicting information to go off of, it’s inevitable that personal preferences will come into play. If you are predisposed to believing the changeup is the neatest pitch around, then chances are high you are going to elevate the ranking of a pitcher with a plus change. I watched a college game a few years ago next to a scout that told me that his scouting director was only interested in college pitchers with at least two above-average to plus pitches. Another scout chimed in that his scouting director told him that any prep pitchers taken by his time were required to at least show three different pitches, no matter the quality. We all look for different ways to differentiate the good prospects from the so-so prospects, and, perhaps more importantly, the great prospects from the good prospects.
There are a lot of different ways one can evaluate high school pitching prospects, with no real right way or wrong way of reaching a conclusion. Of course, let’s be honest here – there is little accountability on my end when it comes to how I rank these guys. I take pride in my work and am ridiculously appreciative of every single reader who stops by, but I understand my job isn’t on the line when I endorse one player over another. One of the things that really stood out to me in really digging deep into the high school pitching prospect ranks last year was how rare finding a high school pitching prospect with two present plus pitches is. Jameson Taillon has those two pitches.
Taillon will easily sit in the low-90s as a professional, with a peak fastball that has already reached the high-90s. He is close to a finished product coming out of high school as I can remember in recent years, a fact that will unbelievably work against him as draft day draws closer. The comparisons to fellow top high school righthander AJ Cole are inevitable. AJ Cole has a plus fastball and a potential plus curve; Jameson Taillon has a plus fastball and a present plus curve. Taillon also has the current leg up with his changeup, although he hasn’t really shown the pitch off in real game situations just yet.
It’ll be really interesting to see if the Cole vs Taillon storyline emerges as a viable draft subplot this spring. The two young arms are a study in contrast, despite sporting similar high end velocities and offspeed stuff. Additionally, both young righties have top of the rotation upside. Cole may ultimately have more upside, but there is little arguing he is currently further from reaching it. Taillon is the more finished product, but some scouts worry he is currently throwing better than he’ll ever throw professionally. In a world that encourages controversy by demanding that all things boil down to building up one side of an argument while simultaneously tearing down the other, it would not be the least bit surprising to see plenty of people frame the Cole vs Taillon debate in this way. There is no problem with picking a favorite horse in the race, heck it’s part of the whole reason this site is around. Building up one player is appreciated, but I don’t see why it has to come at the expense of another. I guess it’s just the subtle different between Cole over Taillon (or vice versa) and Cole vs Taillon; I’m hoping for the former, but I fear we’ll see more of the latter.
I can’t really speak to the rather generous comps to Strasburg, Beckett, and Clemens, but I think it’s pretty clear that Taillon is a far more well-rounded prospect than Gerrit Cole was coming out of high school in 2008. To take it a step further, Taillon’s scouting profile reminds me a little bit of what scouts said about Josh Johnson as he was coming up through Florida’s system. While I’m not brave enough to claim Taillon will ever have a pro season quite like the one Johnson just had, I have no problem pointing out that Taillon is currently a better prospect than Johnson ever was. Taillon has a better overall fastball, better secondary offering (though Johnson’s slider has turned into a real weapon professionally), and eerily similar command, makeup, and mound presence. The light clearly went on for Johnson enough to turn him from a good prospect to a great pitcher, a perfect example of how different developmental paths can be for different players. There’s no telling what kind of path Taillon will actually take, but the fact that he even has the chance to follow in the footsteps of a guy like Johnson is darn exciting.
A thought just occurred to me. I may be a bit overzealous with some of my comps, but let’s go with what I’ve got so far, for argument’s sake if nothing else. If AJ Cole is Justin Verlander and Jameson Taillon is Josh Johnson, and neither player is excepted to go number one overall in this draft, then what is there really left to say about what kind of prospect Bryce Harper is?
RHP AJ Cole (Oviedo HS, Florida)
- 91-93 FB/94-96 peak; has reportedly been as high as 98
- potential plus 76-80 KCB
- average 84-88 SF that acts as a change
- 78-81 SL that appears to come and go from outing to outing (?)
- projectable frame at 6-5, 190 pounds
- Zach Wheeler and Rick Porcello comps
Lots to like about AJ Cole’s game, clearly. His biggest strengths include his present plus fastball velocity, a potential plus knuckle curveball, and that wildly projectable 6-5, 190 pound frame. For a prep pitching prospect, that’s about as close to the holy trinity as you can get. I’m just about positive that I’ve seen Cole throw a splitter and I can’t remember ever seeing him throw a true change, so I’m doing a bit of guesswork when I claim he uses that mid-80s split as a de facto changeup. Without any legit industry source backing me up, I’ll hedge my bets and stick with calling the pitch a “splitter that he uses as a facsimile for a change” for now. Whatever you want to call the pitch, it’s probably a stretch to call it anything more than average right now. That may sound like a knock, but remember how rare it is to see a high school prospect with three present average or better pitches. An average third pitch may not be a negative, but it does highlight a clear area where Cole could stand to improve this spring. There are currently conflicting reports on the existence of Cole’s slider (I personally haven’t seen it), but smarter men than I have clocked it anywhere from 78-81 miles per hour. The similar velocities of the slider and his knuckle curve has me wondering if Cole actually throws two distinct breaking balls at all. If I had to guess, I’d say his actual repertoire consists of a fastball, a spike curve sharp enough that it’s been confused with a slider, and a changeup with above-average downward movement that may or may not be held with an actual splitter grip. A rough conservative breakdown of that arsenal might look something like this:
I see a lot to like in the Cole’s delivery and throwing mechanics. His arm action seems nice and easy and he appears to have little trouble repeating the same consistent 3/4 delivery from pitch to pitch, batter to batter. The one negative thing I can say about Cole’s mechanics is that he seems to rush through each step of his delivery a heck of a lot quicker than most guys I’ve seen. That last problem seems like one that can be corrected with good professional coaching, but that’s an evaluation that will be made on a team-by-team basis this spring.
Speaking of pitching mechanics, allow me to make an admission of apathy on the subject. It’s true, I’m largely indifferent to pitching mechanics. My pet theory is that 99.99% of the baseball watching population can only derive so much usefulness from evaluating a pitcher’s throwing mechanics. In my estimation, all pitching deliveries fall somewhere along a bell curve that looks a little bit like the following – maybe 15% of the time a pitcher’s mechanics are so perfect (Nolan Ryan, for example) that it is abundantly clear whatever he is doing is working and will continue to work going forward, roughly 15% of the time a guy’s mechanics are so obviously cringe-worthy that you can’t help classify his arm as nothing more than a ticking time bomb, and then there is that big fat middle 60% or so that falls somewhere in between the two extremes. If a pitcher has mechanics in that middle part of the curve, I’m willing to change my personal focus from analyzing each individual part of the setup, windup, and follow through (yeah, like I can really do that anyway…) to worrying about a) does the pitcher have any kind of track record of arm problems, b) can the pitcher repeat whatever they are doing on the mound pitch after pitch after pitch, c) does the pitcher maintain velocity of his fastball and sharpness of his breaking balls, and d) does the pitcher tip off the batter by showing clear differences in arm speed when throwing different pitches. Those four things are what I care about most. That is, of course, unless something obviously good or bad (highly subjective, I know) jumps out at me. If enough people I talk to/read like a certain guy’s mechanics, I’m sold. If, in addition to getting a passing mark from somebody I trust, the pitcher is able to repeat his delivery and maintain a consistent velocity while doing so, I’m sold twice over.
The popular industry comp of Porcello works in a lot of ways, but I much prefer sizing the young Florida righthander up with Porcello’s Detroit teammate, Justin Verlander. Verlander represents Cole’s ultimate upside as a big leaguer, but it’s interesting to compare the two pitchers at similar points in their development. Despite possessing a 93 MPH peak velocity fastball, Verlander wasn’t even drafted coming out of Goochland HS (VA). Scouts questioned his shaky control and inconsistent mechanics while also citing concerns over how his 6-4, 170 pound high school frame would hold up as a professional. He embarked on an intense workout program upon enrolling at Old Dominion that helped move him closer to the finished product that we see today. Cole offers a similar velocity floor (low-90s) when compared to the high school version of Verlander, but has the edge when it comes to prep peak velocity as he has been clocked as high as 96-98 MPH at various stages in the past year. So, Cole has a better fastball at this point in his development, plus more consistent breaking stuff and a more advanced overall feel for pitching. If, and it is admittedly a pretty sizable if, Cole’s 6-5, 190 pound frame fills out like Verlander’s similarly projectable high school frame did, then you could eventually be talking about two very similar pitching prospects come draft time. With a little more muscle packed on, Cole’s fastball has the potential to be one of the signature pitches in all of baseball much in the same way Verlander’s heater has emerged as a special offering.
If you don’t like the Verlander comp, or the more popular Wheeler/Porcello industry comps, maybe you like the totally coincidental comparison to a trio of Yankee stars, future, present, and past – Phil Hughes, AJ Burnett, and a bigger and harder throwing version of Mike Mussina. When the upside is Burnett (3 WAR floor), Mussina (future HOFer), and Verlander (2.80 FIP in 2009), and the most similar prospects in reason memory are Rick Porcello ($3.5 million bonus) and Phil Hughes (BA’s fourth best prospect in baseball in 2007), only signability concerns or injury will keep you out of the first ten picks.