By John Perrotto
The Pirates might believe in data more than any organization in Major League Baseball. Every decision they make, whether it is right or wrong, is supported by some kind of number.
Thus, it comes as no surprise that general manager Neal Huntington knows that past history reveals the odds are against high school pitchers taken early in the draft making a big impact at the major-league level, particularly right-handers.
Yet when it came time for the Pirates to make the second overall in the MLB First-Year Player Draft on Monday night, Huntington went against the numbers and with his intuition.
The Pirates choose high school right-hander Jameson Taillon of The Woodlands, Texas in suburban Houston over shortstop Manny Machado of Hialeah, Fla., in the Miami suburbs.
“We know the history but we also know that you have to take each player on a case-by-case basis and look at each individual,” Huntington said. “There were a lot of attributes about Jameson that we liked, a lot of things that led us to believe that he has a lot of upside and was the right pick for us.”
Taillon stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 225 pounds. The 18-year-old has a fastball that has been clocked as high as 99 mph and been compared to Boston Red Sox right-hander Josh Beckett, though with a more even temperament.
Taillon was 8-1 with a 1.78 ERA in 11 games this season for The Woodlands High School. In 62 innings, he allowed 42 hits while walking 21 and striking out 114.
Taillon’s fastball usually sits in the 93-97 range and he also has a big-breaking curveball. He occasionally mixes in a hard slider and changeup, a pitch scouts feel needs the most improvement.
“It was an excruciating decision,” general manager Neal Huntington said of choosing Taillon over Machado. “We think so much of both young men, not only as players but as people. There wasn’t one thing in particular that separated the two in our minds. In the end, we just had a feeling that Jameson Taillon has a chance to be a very special pitcher.”
Huntington saw Taillon pitch twice and Huntington and scouting director Greg Smith also met with the prospective first-round for four hours in anticipation of possibly taking him with the first pitch. Huntington came away impressed.
“Not only did our scouts see him pitch on numerous occasions but we talked to a lot of people about him,” Huntington said. “We talked to his teachers and other coaches in the area. Every person we talked with told us about what a great family Jameson comes from and what a good person that he is.”
John Perrotto has covered the Pirates since 1988 and is the editor-in-chief for BaseballProspectus.com and the baseball columnist for the Beaver County Times