Pirate Notes: Taillon vs. Cole, Lambo vs. Jones, panic signings to come?

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Jameson Taillon is on track to become a great pitcher. Compared with Gerrit Cole, Taillon might have the higher long-term upside of the two – though that’s a tough statement to make after Cole’s brilliant 2013. The Pirates drafted Taillon out of high school in 2010; Cole in 2011, out of UCLA.

Taillon didn’t come equipped with the polished bells and whistles Cole did. He didn’t pitch in big collegiate contests against top hitters. The learning curve has had to be greater for Taillon at the pro game. The Pirates have worked with him extensively, insisting on fastball command and a changeup to go with an out-pitch curve.

Of course, Cole’s so-called weakest pitch is his mid-90s fastball. His 96.1 mph average heater led all major-league hurlers with at least 110 innings in 2013. How much Cole can improve remains to be seen. His game almost seems more about refining than improving.

Taillon, on the other hand, hasn’t yet clicked at any minor-league stop. Granted, the Pirates are more interested in developing the righty than checking his results. For that reason, it’s difficult to state definitively where Taillon’s game stands right now.

Listening to a prominent sports personality on 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh on Saturday, he was of the opinion Taillon has to break camp with the Pirates.

There are a number of reasons why that might not be a good idea and none include holding Taillon back a season for arbitration purposes.

Major league innings and minor league innings are not created equally. A pitcher can get away with mediocrity easier against Double-A or Triple-A batters than big leaguers. The stress level increases with each level, the “heart beat” as Pirates manager Clint Hurdle calls it. Obviously, it takes much more to succeed in the majors than anywhere else. There are no mulligans. Bringing up a pitcher because of his pedigree and dismissing shortcomings can be a trap, setting that pitcher back for a year or two or longer.

Taillon hasn’t put up great numbers at any minor league stop, nor does he have much experience. He has all of 127.1 innings for Double-A Altoona and 37 IP with Triple-A Indy. His combined 2013 numbers include a 3.73 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in 147.1 frames.

There’s something to be said for Taillon dominating at the World Baseball Classic for Team Canada prior to his 2012 spring training. That’s good news for the Bucs. It was an important step for the 22-year-old and had to give him a jolt of confidence. Seeing Cole come up last summer also had to get his competitive juices flowing.

But while the two pitchers might be right-handed, they come from different backgrounds and are on different courses.

It wasn’t hard to forecast success for Cole right off the bat, considering his career path. Taillon is a bit different.

He could struggle upon his initial recall, whenever that is. The Pirates would be wise to give him a chance to dominate at Indianapolis and force his way into the rotation after the Super 2 Arbitration period passes sometime in June.

A number of prospect rankings have dropped Taillon in the past year, with some calling him a potential No. 2 pitcher. It’s easy to see how these outlets might make that call, especially based upon his middling statistics.

But Taillon is not the finished, polished product Cole was and is. What you see is pretty much what you get with Cole – certainly there’s nothing wrong with that. He was a stud in September, when his pitch count was higher than perhaps it should’ve been.

But good things come to those who wait, and Taillon is worth the wait. Counting on him right off the bat might be a mistake, but in the end there’s still a chance he could be just as productive – if not more so – than his fellow Pirates first-round draft pick.

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When Garrett Jones came to the Pirates, he was 28 years of age and had 77 major-league at bats to his credit.

Last season, Jones struggled to his worst year, hitting .233 with a .708 OPS in 440 plate appearances (including 417 against righties – his perceived strength). Incidentally, it’s interesting that he played in 72 games at home and 72 on the road, hitting .233 at PNC Park and .234 away.

Here’s my point.

Andrew Lambo or whomever takes over as the left-handed platoon partner with Gaby Sanchez, will not be replacing Babe Ruth. There is pressure on Lambo, but he doesn’t have to do all that much to do better than Jones.

There’s a school of thought that Lambo is a failed prospect at age 25, but he’s actually three years younger than Jones when he made his Pittsburgh debut.

Yes, the Pirates should upgrade first base. Based on Jones’s 2013 production, it shouldn’t be hard to do.

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Pittsburgh would forfeit its first round draft pick by signing Kendrys Morales, Ervin Santana or Stephen Drew. The longer they remain unsigned, it serves to reason that their asking prices drop. The Bucs could find room for any of these guys. For them to give up the 24th overall pick, here are the annual salary numbers the team should hold out for before inking any of the three: Morales — $6-7 million, Santana — $8-10 million, and Drew — $5-6 million.

Ideally, Morales would be best on a one-year deal to see how he handles first base, but giving up the pick makes a one-year contract tough to justify. Santana could flourish in the National League. He has a bit of a head-case reputation, but getting two years out of him would really help the Bucs. Drew is an injury risk any time he goes on the field. He’s still looking for $10 million-plus per year, so he’s likely out of the equation, anyhow.

What the Baltimore Orioles did made a lot of sense in the free agent market. After signing Ubaldo Jimenez and sacrificing a first-round pick, they inked Nelson Cruz. According to the rules, they didn’t have to give up another first rounder, but their next pick in the same draft after the first rounder they already gave up.

It will be interesting to see how low the prices go on Morales, Santana and Drew drop before they panic and sign on the cheap.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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