Draft 2010: Pirates take 'risk' with pitcher
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In the end, the Pirates went for pitching promise.
They went against history.
They went against convention.
Jameson Taillon, heralded as the second- or third-best prospect and the best pitcher in the 2010 Major League Baseball draft, Monday was selected second overall by the Pirates -- a team that hasn't struck it rich with a first-round prep pitcher in the June draft's 45-year history.
Only three of 11 such players chosen first or second overall in the draft ever sustained any starting success in the majors. Remove No. 2 picks Josh Beckett, in 1999, plus Bill Gullickson in '77 and J.R. Richard in '69, and the sum total big league record of these high school pitchers: 94-170. Their average career: five seasons. Two never reached the majors.
"We have to acknowledge the risk," said Pirates general manager Neal Huntington. "You study the draft and see the large percentage of high school starting pitchers that don't make it. ... As we make an evaluation projecting into the future, we look at everything, and this pick gives us what we want, both on an off the field. We saw all the necessary traits in him that will make him successful for us.
"He has the stuff that allows you to envision, down the road, a top-of-the-rotation starter." He added, "A lot has to go right between now and then."
Taillon (pronounced TIE-own) is a 6-foot-6 1/2, 220-pound right-hander who is compared favorably with Beckett at this age. He believes, like Beckett of Boston, he possesses the intangibles to defy draft history. "My work ethic, my personality," he said of what differentiates him from so many draft failures. "Extremely goal-oriented.
"I'm not going to look at the track record of high school pitchers taken in the first round."
Next comes the negotiation dance: trying to sign this 18-year-old right-hander from a tony Houston suburb and represented by agents to the Texas pitching stars, brothers Randy and Alan Hendricks. Taillon has a major-college baseball scholarship in hand and an education-first family with a sister in law school, one brother working toward a doctorate and another beginning his medical residency.
"I'm very big on Rice University," Taillon said on a conference call soon after his selection. "I've wanted to go there ever since I was 9 years old. Now I'm faced with a very tough decision. I know I'll make the right choice. My parents [Michael and Christie, an adjunct professor at nearby Lone Star College] are both extremely educated. That definitely rubs off on me. I'm going to have to weigh the pros and cons. It is my decision, and I am looking forward to getting down to business and seeing what I do. I think it will take a few days to settle in and within a week or so, I can tell you which direction I am leaning, whether it is college or pro ball."
Huntington and scouting director Greg Smith flew to Houston a week ago to meet with Taillon for a wide-ranging sit-down that lasted nearly four hours. Signability, he said, wasn't part of the conversation.
Less than two weeks ago, Taillon's father offered: "He's a very good student, but it looks like his pursuits won't be academic at this point."
The previous time the Pirates held the second-overall choice, slugger Pedro Alvarez's signing required more than three months, hearings and disagreements, and a franchise-record $6,355,000 million contract. Last year's No. 2, slugger Dustin Ackley, signed with Seattle for $7.1 million.
The Pirates had whittled their candidates to Taillon and Miami Brito Private School shortstop Manny Machado.
"We settled on the decision over the weekend ... evaluating the total package," said Huntington. He added that the fact Scott Boras -- agent for Alvarez, Harper and more -- represents Machado mattered "none."
"They're one of those teams that can't go out on the huge market and compete with those [large-market] teams," Taillon said. "Any time you get picked by one of those teams, it's a huge honor. I guess they see me as a future piece of that organization. [They're] eager to turn it around. Extremely motivated to turn it around here. I can tell what kind of player they like: motivated. I can see the Pirates turning it around shortly."
One former Hendricks brothers client and major league star from Texas came to one of The Woodlands' spring games to watch Taillon, who went 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA, a .177 opposing batting average, 21 walks and 114 strikeouts in 62 2/3 innings. Apparently, Roger Clemens wanted to see the kid with the fastball that struck 98 mph on a radar gun, the breaking-ball that Huntington termed "quality-now," the changeup that distanced Taillon from even the more-mature college pitchers in the first round.
"Took some pictures afterward, talked about pitching and whatnot," Taillon recalled. "It was pretty neat. Extremely neat."
First Published June 8, 2010 12:00 am