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“That’s the last time I ever have to sit in the office and be sent back down.”

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BRADENTON, Fla. – Jameson Taillon sat in Clint Hurdle’s office early Monday morning, receiving some expected news. The Pirates’ starting pitching prospect had been cut from big league camp, sent to the minors where he would pitch out of the Indianapolis rotation. After receiving this news, Taillon had a thought and a goal going forward.

“That’s the last time I ever have to sit in the office and be sent back down.”

Taillon knew this would happen. He hasn’t pitched in an official game in two years, and his work during that time has been limited to rehab appearances in extended Spring Training games, plus several starts during the Fall Instructional League in 2015. The Pirates made it clear to him that he would open the season in Triple-A, getting re-acclimated to upper level hitting. As I wrote yesterday, that’s one of the few things he needs to work on, as his mechanics look better than ever, and he looks like a guy who would be in the Pittsburgh rotation right now, had it not been for the time off.

There was no chance Taillon could have made the team, but that didn’t stop him from trying to open some eyes, and make sure that no one forgot about him these last two years.

“I think the organization has kind of sent a message that they’re as excited now as they’ve ever been about me,” Taillon said. “But internally, the competitive side of me, I want people to know that I’m back. I’m back, better than ever. For me, it was almost a sense of pride coming in. I didn’t think if I pitched well I would have won a spot out of Spring by any means, but I kind of wanted to come in with a chip on my shoulder and let them know that I’m back, don’t forget about me.”

Being cut from big league camp is something Taillon has been through before. He knew that he had zero shot in 2013, when he was first invited but had yet to pitch a single inning above A-ball. He was cut the last two years due to the Tommy John surgery. But this year he’s actually got a shot to help the team during the season, which made it a bit different.

“It still stinks,” Taillon said. “When you’re there, you still always think maybe there’s a chance. That’s where you want to be. That’s the ultimate goal.”

From a mechanical standpoint, Taillon looks ready. But don’t underestimate the need to get experience in the upper levels. Taillon’s stuff is better than ever, but he needs to learn how and when to use that stuff against advanced hitters.

“He is ready to take that next step, or getting ready to take that next step,” Pirates’ General Manager Neal Huntington said. “It’s really just a matter of getting him some upper level exposure. Getting him back on the mound, getting him back in a competitive environment, putting him in a situation to be successful. We do anticipate that at some point this year, he’ll be ready to help us, and at some point this year we’ll most likely have the need.”

The Pirates also want Taillon throwing his changeup more. He said that he’s comfortable with the pitch, but didn’t throw it often during his time in big league camp, due to the situation.

“I’m extremely confident in it,” Taillon said of the changeup. It’s just tough whenever you’re up there, in front of those eyes everyday. It’s a mix. You’re [Francisco] Liriano, you get to go up there and work on stuff, because he’s obviously got a spot. For me, I don’t have a spot. I’m trying to pitch well in front of those eyes, and make the most out of my time in front of them. I wanted to mix getting ready for the year, but I wanted to get outs.”

Taillon relied on the fastball and curveball in big league camp. When the Pirates sent him down, their main message was simple: “Don’t lose sight of the changeup as being just as good as the other pitches.”

This camp was different for Taillon in many ways, but the key difference was that he felt like he belonged this year. In previous years, his takeaway was to just learn from the big leaguers and soak up as much information as possible. This time around, he worked on developing relationships with the key people he will be working with later in the year.

“The biggest thing this year is that I feel like I’m not in that position anymore. I feel like I belong up there,” Taillon said. “I feel like instead of being awestruck by people and being shy around Searage and Clint, I feel like this year it was about developing a relationship with them. I feel like they’ll be my coaches soon. Getting to work with catchers, and instead of feeling honored to work with them, I want to get on the same page with them. I feel like that’s the guy I’m going to be throwing to maybe this year. I just felt like a sense of belonging this year, a lot more than others.”

Taillon will almost certainly be pitching in the big leagues with Pittsburgh this year, and the only question is “when.” A lot of that will depend on his innings. The Pirates haven’t set an innings total in stone, and are just treating Taillon like a normal pitcher at this point, with one key exception.

“I’m a planner. That’s my personality. I like to have stuff set in stone,” Taillon said. “So I want a number, but every indication I’ve got is I’m a normal pitcher going out there. There’s no true cap on me right now, but we’re going to have to be open about it. If I ever need a day, or need some rest, be open and they can kind of rearrange things.”

Neal Huntington has talked about how they want to save innings for Taillon to pitch in September, but they also want to make sure they don’t leave too many innings on the table. Taillon expressed those same thoughts. So the approach early in the year will be flexibility, all based on how Taillon is feeling.

“It’s going to be reading what we’re seeing from him physically, and what we’re hearing from him as we communicate with him,” Huntington said. “We don’t want to leave innings in the bank. We also want to make sure that we have a position that if he progresses the way we anticipate, that he can help us come late in the season. We don’t have to be cognizant of every pitch that he throws in September, and in an ideal world, maybe even October. So we’ll monitor, whether it’s bullpens, games, an extra day here or there, skip a turn, and early out. We’ll do the best we can to monitor. But so much is going to be predicated on what he’s showing us, and what he’s feeling, and what he’s telling us.”

Taillon said that they might have a clearer picture on his innings when the season starts. For now, the one thing that is clear is that he’s going to be ready to help the Pirates this year, and he’s in better position with his stuff and mechanics to reach his top of the rotation upside than he ever has been in the past.

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Tim Williams
Tim Williams
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.

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