By John Perrotto
It would not be a stretch to say that the top two prospects in the Pirates’ farm system are two players who just joined the organization late Monday night.
The Pirates exceeded their internal expectations before the midnight deadline for signing selections from this year’s amateur draft by agreeing to terms with both of their top picks, right-handers Jameson Taillon of The Woodlands High School in suburban Houston and Stetson Allie of St. Edward’s High School in Lakewood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland.
Baseball America rated Taillon’s fastball as the best among high school pitchers eligible for the draft and had Allie second in that category. The magazine also rated Taillon as the high school player closest to reaching the major leagues.
Based on sheer upside, one would be hard-pressed to find anyone in an improving Pirates’ farm system with higher ceilings than Taillon and Allie.
“I would have to say they would definitely be in the top 10 among our prospects,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “In fact, they probably would be even higher than that. I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about where they’d rank but my gut feeling is both would rank very high.”
Catcher Tony Sanchez, last year’s first-round draft pick from Boston College, would also be in the picture as one of the Pirates’ top two prospects. However, he has missed much of his first full professional season with high Class A Bradenton because of a broken jaw suffered when he was hit by a pitch.
Taillon has a fastball that has been clocked as high as 99mph along with a curveball and slider that are considered above-average offerings.
The 6-foot-6, 230-pouund Taillon pitched in 11 games this past season and was 8-1 with a 1.78 ERA. He had 114 strikeouts and 21 walks in 62 innings and struck out 19 in a seven-inning no-hitter. In four high school seasons, Taillon was 22-6 with 282 strikeouts in 173 innings.
Taillon was also the winning pitcher for the United States in the gold-medal game against Venezuela last year in the 18-and-under division of the Pan American Junior Championship.
Allie throws even harder than Taillon as his fastball reached as high as 102 mph this spring. He also has a good curveball but is not considered quite as polished as Taillon at this stage of his career.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Allie was 9-1 with a 1.29 ERA and 134 strikeouts in 60 innings this past season. He had 13 strikeouts in six innings for St. Edward in winning the Ohio state championship game and had six fastballs register 100 mph or higher.
The Pirates knew it would be difficult to sign both pitchers because of their bonus demands. Even in the final days before the deadline, the Pirates privately felt they were likely only able to sign Taillon. However, they worked out deals with both as Taillon got a $6.5 million signing bonus and Allie signed for $2.25 million. Taillon had signed a letter of intent to play collegiately at Rice and Allie was a North Carolina recruit.
The Pirates signed 27 of their 50 picks and gave significant signing bonuses to a number of other draftees, including $480,000 to fourth-round pick Nick Kingham, a right-hander from Sierra Vista High School in Las Vegas; $468,000 to 15th-rounder Drew Maggi, a shortstop from Arizona State; $450,000 to 17th-rounder Ryan Hafner, a right-hander from Lee’s Summit (Mo.) West High School; $423,900 to third-rounder Mel Rojas, Jr., an outfielder from Wabash Valley (Ill.) Community College; and $400,000 to 23rd-rounder Jared Lakind, a first baseman from Cypress Woods (Texas) High School.
Kingham (Oregon), Hafner (Missouri State) and Lakind (Arkansas) had the option of going to college as leverage in their negotiations while Rojas and Maggi, a redshirt sophomore, both could have returned to college and reentered the draft next year.
John Perrotto is editor-in-chief of BaseballProspectus.com and baseball columnist at the Beaver County Times