On the Pirates: Settling on Taillon wasn't easy
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Jameson Taillon or Manny Machado.
Manny Machado or Jameson Taillon.
The debate carried into last weekend.
Precisely when the Pirates' talent-evaluating braintrust decided to draft Texas teenage right-hander Taillon with the second overall selection in the draft last Monday night, or even how they decided, has yet to be fully divulged. At least, it hasn't been fully divulged by general manager Neal Huntington or the 10-plus scouting heads around a couple of Pirate City tables who, under Huntington's approval and at one point under the watchful eye of team president Frank Coonelly, rendered the final Taillon call.
But, Huntington admitted, it was a decision that rattled the meeting room walls a mite.
"A great debate," the Pirates' GM called it at draft's end. "There was a lot of spirited and passionate debate about each player. It was not an easy decision. Some have portrayed it as flip-flopping back and forth. We hadn't made a decision, nor was one guy in the lead, until the weekend."
Indeed, the Pirates earlier that Memorial Day week met with Taillon (pronounced TIE-own) near his home in his tony north-Houston suburb, Huntington and scouting director Greg Smith sitting down with The Woodlands High pitcher for nearly four hours. It remains unknown if they similarly flew to Miami to meet with the shortstop Machado, but such a gathering is their pre-draft modus operandi.
One difference: Last year, Smith and Huntington at their meeting treated then-Boston College catcher Tony Sanchez to lunch at famed Legal Sea Foods. Taillon got no such meal. "Wish they had fed him," father Michael Taillon teased about his 6-foot-6 1/2, 220-pound baby boy.
The ultimate choice came down to that final pre-draft weekend at Pirate City. Huntington disdains a herd mentality, a bullied consensus where the assembled scouts merely settled into approval of his or Smith's favorite candidate. Instead, they held an open debate and exercised their own votes.
"It was everything you want in a decision of that magnitude," Huntington said. "People put their opinions out there. There was a great give and take, there was a great back and forth. People spoke their minds."
They spoke of the strengths and weaknesses of each. They spoke of the upsides and downsides. They spoke about the history of high-school pitchers picked in the Nos. 1 or 2 selections. They spoke about a 6-foot-3 potential power hitter staying at shortstop or moving. They compared the two in every regard. They compared them to other prospects they've watched over the years.
Standing in the back of the room were a gaggle of younger evaluators and personnel types. All this straining proved to be on-the-job training. "You talk about a tremendous development opportunity for those guys," Huntington noted.
In the end -- "there was no drama," he said -- "Greg had his decisions," and the group around the tables along with Huntington reached a "solid, rational conclusion." Take Taillon.
There was "no one thing that [screamed], 'Absolutely, this is our guy,' " he continued. But they reached their decision by Sunday night at the latest, for Monday morning word began to circulate around baseball. Come 7:16 p.m. Monday, it was Taillon time.
Huntington concluded, "In our minds, we believe we got the right guy."
You bet, they're talking about him. He had something of a statement game -- on the MLB Network -- last Wednesday afternoon, when Jose Tabata and Brad Lincoln were in Washington preparing to make their major-league debuts. "He almost hit a cycle off a left-hander," Pirates manager John Russell noted of Alvarez's triple, a two-run homer and a double against Pawtucket. He struck out in his final at-bat.
"He's doing well. He's doing well," Russell added. Talking to the Class AAA Indianapolis staff, general manager Neal Huntington plus player development director Kyle Stark, "he's making adjustments.
"The biggest thing people need to realize, he's going to have to continue to make adjustments when he gets here [to the majors]. It's not like he's going to step in and be a 30-home run guy from the start. We'd like to believe he has the capability of doing that [eventually].
"He's still going to have to go through some adjustments here, just like Neil Walker is going to have to, just like Jose Tabata is going to have to, just like Andrew [McCutchen] and Garrett [Jones] did last year. But it's good that he's starting to really do some of the things we envisioned to get him ready to come up: using the whole field more, driving the ball, staying within himself, getting a few walks. ... He is going to strike out some. But ... [to] be a little bit more consistent -- it looks like the last few weeks he's really started to lock in on that."
So how did Jeff Karstens feel about that idea that a baseball he threw Tuesday night in Washington is heading to the Hall of Fame?
"But he signed it," Karstens said in feigned disgust, referring to the Nationals' Stephen Strasburg -- whose ballcap and autographed ball from his 14-strikeout debut were sent to Cooperstown.
The aura and attention around that evening still causes Pirates to marvel. Karstens wound up bumping into famed announcer Bob Costas at their D.C. hotel later that night and exchanged pleasantries.
"A Nationals-Pirates game that big?" McCutchen said. "Glad it's over."
Ryan Doumit mentioned it at PirateFest when talking about the transition in store for fellow catcher Jeff Clement: first base is hard.
Particularly, in Doumit's case, when you go roughly 25 months between games there.
"I know when I first moved to first, I kind of thought: 'This shouldn't be that bad.' Shoot," Russell recalled of his first big-league time there in 1985, a base he manned all of 24 games in nine seasons. "It's unbelievable the amount of responsibilities that you have: positioning on the field, cutoffs and relays, footwork, throws, bunt plays -- there's just a gamut of things.
"It's not obviously as easy as it looks."
First Published June 13, 2010 12:00 am