The Situation: The Pirates and Taillon had an interesting path to navigate because of an injury background that saw the last two seasons wasted due to Tommy John Surgery and a hernia, respectively. After building up his arm strength to start the year, Taillon is up to face off with the reigning NL Champion New York Mets.
Background: Taillon was the second-overall pick in 2010, and was a fast rising prospect with the Pirates, reaching Triple-A Indianapolis at the age of 21. He seemed primed to join the Pirates soon after, until he required UCL reconstruction. Taillon was expected to be back during the 2015 season, but was forced to undergo surgery to repair a hernia that wiped out the full season. This lead to a different recovery track than most post Tommy John, as he went two full years between surgery and his first start back with a full season club. Through two months in 2016, Taillon has dazzled.
Scouting Report: I saw Taillon’s return to action in April. His fastball reached 95 in his return, though our own Adam Hayes has seen him as high as 97 in recent action. His fastball is a 70, with downhill plane and arm-side run on it. His 12-6 curveball also is a plus-plus pitch that breaks hard and late, prompting multiple swings and misses when he was able to keep the pitch down. His changeup is clearly his third offering, and will flash average at times, which is fine when you have two plus-plus pitches in your arsenal. It showed some tumble in April, but Taillon was not comfortable with the pitch at the time. He has reportedly become more comfortable with it in early counts with a harder look on it.
Taillon comes from a three-quarters arm slot, has a high leg kick, and an arm wrap before he throws through the zone, and ended with a little bit of effort. He had minimal issues repeating his delivery, and his starter’s build supports the delivery. He was prone to miss down in the zone when in his first game back, but has seemingly polished his game since.
Immediate Big League Future: Taillon again has an interesting situation as someone two years removed from TJS, but his lack of game reps makes it unclear what type of innings limitation the Pirates might have. Clint Hurdle said that “This isn’t an opportunity where he needs to come and just twirl it to just stay. There are things in his control. There are things out of his control.” While that gives off some mixed signals, it appears that as long as Taillon isn’t pitching poorly, he should have a home in the Pirates’ rotation. —Grant Jones
Fantasy Take: Fantasy owners were right to pump the brakes on Taillon in March. The 24-year-old hadn’t pitched since 2013 and was recovering from both Tommy John surgery and an inguinal hernia, which should always make everyone skittish. He’s back on the mound, though, and looks every bit the prized pitching prospect he was when he first went down with the elbow injury. The stats make owners salivate: Taillon owns a 2.04 ERA with a gaudy 25.9 percent strikeout rate and a miniscule 2.5 percent walk rate. The stuff matches the numbers, too, which bodes well for his chances to carry that profile to the majors.
Taillon is a better fantasy asset than guys like Aaron Blair and Sean Manaea. He’s perhaps on par with someone like Jose Berrios, who has the potential to be a 170-plus strikeout guy with value in ratios, but Taillon could conceivably strikeout 200 down the road because his command profile is better. As of May 16, for example, the Pirates’ hurler is touching 97 mph with a hammer curve, a usable changeup, and present 60-grade control. That’ll absolutely do.
The right-hander is one of the few minor-league promotions who could push a mediocre pitching staff to the next level. One should expect some growing pains—as seen with Berrios, Blair, Manaea, etc.—but it’s very possible that he arrives in the National League and becomes, at minimum, a mid-rotation starter from the very first pitch. That kind of profile costs money. The elephant in the room is what his innings cap will be this year, as one figures the Pirates are cautious when it comes to his overall workload in 2016. He may be on the bench when the fantasy season hits crunch time. That combination leaves me offering $20-25 in mixed leagues and probably close to $45-50 in NL-only leagues. That may be high, honestly, considering the fact that he may be shut down by September, but high-end talent costs money, no matter what schemes the owners are able to cook up in real-life baseball. —J.P. Breen
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