Cook: Taillon part of Pirates' plan
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Marc-Andre Fleury + Evgeni Malkin + Sidney Crosby + Jordan Staal = Stanley Cup.
Andrew McCutchen + Brad Lincoln + Pedro Alvarez + Jameson Taillon = ?????
A winning season?
We can dream, right?
The Penguins proved the plan can work. Be bad for a long time. Accumulate high draft choices. Make smart selections. Have a little luck. (It's hard to imagine any team in any sport at any time being luckier than the Penguins when the Crosby ping-pong ball bounced their way). Coach 'em up. Reap the rewards.
If the Penguins can do it, so can the Pirates.
Honest to goodness, I want to believe that.
It's hard, but I'm trying.
The Pirates made another strong pick Monday night when they chose Texas schoolboy power pitcher Taillon with the No. 2 selection in baseball's amateur draft. Every team had the kid no lower than third on its draft board behind consensus No. 1 pick outfielder/catcher Bryce Harper, who went to the Washington Nationals, and perhaps Florida high school shortstop Manny Machado, who went No. 3 to the Baltimore Orioles.
Clearly, Machado would have been the safer pick. "Gut-wrenching," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington called the decision not to take him. There always are fewer hurdles on the way to the big leagues for a high school position player than a high school pitcher. Check the history books and see how few high school pitchers make it big as top draft choices. But that's OK. If you're a team such as the Pirates on a limited budget, you have to take a risk once in a while. I'd rather have a dominant No. 1 starter than a power-hitting shortstop any day. Pitching wins championships.
Tell the truth, though.
When you heard the Pirates took the pitcher instead of the shortstop, didn't this thought run through your mind?
Why don't they just send him to Dr. James Andrews now and get the surgery out of the way?
Not to be cynical.
"I've never had any arm problems," Taillon said after the draft. "Let's cross our fingers."
The kid didn't sound a day older than 18 when he said that. We forget how young these guys really are. We were reminded in Taillon's case when he spoke of posing for pictures and talking baseball with Texas pitching legend Roger Clemens. "Pretty neat!" he gushed. "Extremely neat!"
It's nice to think Taillon will be posing with some awestruck young pitcher one day. Huntington talked of his "rhythmic delivery," which should reduce the risk of an arm injury. Taillon has a fastball that ranges from 94-99 mph with an above-average slider and curve and a changeup that, according to Huntington, is close to being a fourth quality pitch for him. He has been compared to Boston Red Sox ace Josh Beckett.
Who wouldn't sign in blood for that?
"There is a lot to like about this young man," Huntington said.
Now, the Pirates must get Taillon's signature in ink on a contract. That won't be easy or cheap. He has options; he's from a highly educated family and has accepted a scholarship to prestigious Rice University. That should add a few dollars to his Pirates contract.
But that's just the cost of doing business these days in the big leagues. That's why it was so absurd that Huntington, right after drafting Taillon, took the time to thank Pirates owner Bob Nutting for "providing us with the resources" to draft such a player. As if Nutting has a choice if he has even the slightest desire to win. In that moment, Huntington sounded very much like a man in the final year of his contract, sucking up to keep his job.
Still, this was a good day for the franchise. Remember the forgettable six-year period from 1997-2002 when the Pirates all but wasted first-round picks on J.J. Davis (No. 6), Clint Johnston (15), Bobby Bradley (8), Sean Burnett (19), John Van Benschoten (8) and -- the real killer -- Bryan Bullington (1)? They've come a long way.
Go back to the 2008 draft when the Pirates took Alvarez No. 2 and gave him a $6,355,000 contract. He's expected to bring his power bat and third baseman's glove to Pittsburgh any day. In '06, they took Lincoln, who could make his major league pitching debut Wednesday night against the Nationals. There was McCutchen at No. 11 in '05; he has the look of a star in center field. There was Neil Walker at No. 11 in '04; he has played lights out at second base since re-joining the big club two weeks ago.
Even the Pirates' recent first-round reaches don't seem quite so bad. Catcher Tony Sanchez, who was taken No. 4 a year ago, is off to a nice start in the minors. Pitcher Daniel Moskos -- whose selection at No. 4 in '07 ahead of highly regarded catching prospect Matt Wieters, who is in the majors with the Orioles but struggling -- has settled in nicely as a closer at Class AA Altoona.
Now if the Pirates can just find that bit of luck ...
If Walker can keep it up. If Alvarez turns out to be the real deal. If Lincoln and Taillon can stay healthy and be front-of-the-rotation pitchers.
Hey, the plan worked for the Penguins. We can dream, right?
First Published June 8, 2010 12:00 am