New York Yankees: Jameson Taillon on the road to a comeback

New York Yankees, Jameson Taillon
Feb 24, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Jameson Taillon (50) throws a pitch during live batting practice during spring training workouts at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees this past Saturday got their first look at Jameson Taillon in a starting role for the team. For Taillon, it was a 47 mile trip down memory lane. He was traveling south on Interstate 75 to LECOM Park, his old training ground when he pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates. That was then and this is now, that day he was doing it in Yankee pinstripes for the first time to face his former team. The Yankees were happy with what they saw in his two-inning start.

He pitched two scoreless innings for the Yankees. Earlier he pitched one inning of relief. In his two games, he has not allowed a run while striking out five across three innings of work. It’s a small sample but it is encouraging. Taillon was traded to the Yankees for four decent prospects late in the offseason. The Yankees took a risk on a pitcher that has had two Tommy John surgeries, but so far he looks healthy. At the best the Yankees hope he is an ace in the making, at the worst, they hope he can adequately replace the departed Masahiro Tanaka.

Taillon could be a big boost to the New York Yankees rotation and probably will start in the number 3 spot behind Gerrit Cole and Corey Kluber. Taillon brings another look to the rotation with an entirely different pitching style. If successful, it could give the Yankees a one, two, three punch at the top of the rotation that opponents will fear. In 2019, he relied primarily on his Slider (89mph), Fourseam Fastball (95mph), and Sinker (95mph), also mixing in a Curve (83mph) and Change (89mph). … His curve is much harder than usual and has a sharp downward bite—Taillon’s pitching results in many ground balls that fit Yankee Stadium nicely.

Frustrated by a second Tommy John surgery, the Yankees’ newest starter worked with a “village” of experts to revamp his delivery. He is ready to display it on day one with the New York Yankees. Let’s look at the journey that has led him to the Yankees.

Jameson Lee Taillon is 29 years old, born on November 18, 1991. He is a Canadian/American citizen, but he was born in Lakeland, Florida. His family moved to Texas, where the tall young man attended Woodlands High School in Woodland. He played baseball for the Highlanders. It was there that he got the attention of Pittsburgh Pirates scouts with his 22-6 record. In his senior year at Woodland, he threw a no-hitter, striking out 19 hitters. His 2010 senior record was 8-1.

Out of high school, Taillon signed a letter of intent to attend college but was drafted in the Pirates’ in the first round. Just hours before the deadline, he did choose the Pirates over Rice University for a $6.5 million signing bonus, the second-highest bonus in draft history at the time. Taillon made his professional debut on April 27, 2011. He joined the team on April 24 after staying in Florida for an extended spring training assignment. He spent the season with the West Virginia Power, going 2–3 with a 3.98 ERA in 23 starts.

Taillon was named to appear in the 2012All-Star Futures Game. He started the 2012 season with the Marauders but was quickly promoted to the Altoona Curve. In August, he was named the Eastern League pitcher of the week. In 26 starts between the two teams, he was 9-8 with a 3.55 ERA. He was promoted to the Indianapolis Indians, but after the season, he had his first Tommy John surgery to repair a UCL of the elbow, causing him to miss the entire 2014 season. He also missed the 2015 season with a sports hernia.

During 2016 Taillon spent his time between the Pirates and the minors going back and forth. He made his Major League Debut after 10 starts in the minors. Taillon went 4–2 with a 2.04 ERA, striking out 61 in 61.2 innings and walking only 6. In another Pirate’s start, he faced Noah Syndergaard; Taillon threw 6 innings, giving up 3 runs on 6 hits, 2 walks, and 3 strikeouts, not receiving a decision in the eventual 6–5 loss. In his second start against the Mets, he threw 8 scoreless innings, carrying a no-hitter into the seventh before former Yankees Curtis Granderson broke it up, recording his first win in the 4–0 victory. He spent the remainder of 2016 with Pittsburgh. In 18 starts, he compiled a 5–4 record and 3.38 ERA.

In 2017 he was in the Pirate’s starting rotation, but he underwent surgery for testicular cancer in May. After just a few weeks, he was back with the club and finished the season with 25 starts; he had an 8–7 record and 4.44 ERA. He pitched the entire 2018 season uninjured with a 3.20 ERA in 32 starts. His 2019 season was cut short when he required his second Tommy John surgery. He did not pitch in 2020 while rehabbing.

New York Yankees General manager Brian Cashman has a history of taking chances on previously injured players, as he has already done with Corey Kluber. In a worst-case scenario, both of these pitchers will be average pitchers, but there is also an excellent chance that they excel for the Yankees and prove their worth with minor investment.  This will give the Yankees a whole season to evaluate Domingo German and Luis Severino’s returning pitchers and further develop prospects Deivi Garcia, Clarke Schmidt, and Michael King.

At just 29 years old, Taillon is a 6-foot-5, 230-pound pitcher. He primarily utilizes a fastball that can top out at 98 mph, sinker, slider, and a circle curveball. He gets an impressive 50% ground ball rate, which plays well at Yankee Stadium. Taillon is not the pitcher in 2019; he has developed a new delivery to take the strain off his arm by using his hip more efficiently in his delivery.

“I kind of had like a coming-to-grips moment where I said, ‘My current set of mechanics and what I’m doing isn’t working,’” he said in a conference call with reporters. “That’s just the cold, hard truth. I need to change something or else my career is going to be over.”

Taillon has accomplished that working with the training staff, coaches, and a visit to the Florida Baseball Ranch, a facility in Lakeland, Fla., that uses diagnostics to improve health and performance. Over time, the pitcher refashioned his windup and delivery. Taillon declared that he was healthy and would be ready for spring training, whenever it starts. He has been throwing off a mound with the goal of preparation, not rehabilitation.

Taillon said that he now had more spin on his fastball and that his cut fastball had evolved into more of a true slider. He still relies on a sloping curveball, having discovered a comfortable grip on his evolving changeup, which gives him the potential for at least five pitches. Taillon has the ability to become a true ace. The New York Yankees have control of him through the 2022 season.

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