BRADENTON, Fla. – You could create a pretty nice list of prospects if you looked at all of the Pirates minor league pitchers who have undergone Tommy John surgery the last few years. Most of the attention goes to Jameson Taillon and prospects at the top of the system like Clay Holmes, Nick Kingham, Casey Sadler, Brandon Cumpton, and Angel Sanchez. That group alone could be 60% of an MLB rotation one day, along with a few relief depth options.
But there are other prospects in the lower levels who have undergone the surgery. These guys haven’t even had a chance yet to really establish themselves as prospects, or show what kind of upside they could have. I got a chance to see two of those guys — Jacob Taylor and James Marvel — throwing live BP this week at Pirate City, as they both enter their first full season since Tommy John.
Taylor and Marvel were both drafted by the Pirates in 2015. Taylor was a fourth round pick out of JuCo, looking like an interesting prospect due to his younger age and his ability to hit 96 MPH. He was your classic projectable prep pitcher, just one year removed from high school. The Pirates gave him an over-slot bonus of $500,000 to get him to sign.
Unfortunately, Taylor pitched two innings in his GCL debut, and went down with Tommy John late in 2015. He missed most of the 2016 season, but returned for five starts at the end of the year, including one in Morgantown. The command was still an issue, but the stuff was there.
The Pirates gave Taylor a break for a few months during the offseason. He went from September to December without throwing, getting some rest after all of his rehab work.
“That was huge to have all of that off time,” Taylor said. “Just kind of let my arm heal, and get back into things with no pain, no nothing. It feels like my arm just picked up the normal strength.”
Taylor pitched two innings of live BP on Thursday, and while there was no velocity, it looked like he still had the stuff that got him drafted. He’s still in the process of building up, getting his pitches sharp after barely pitching for the last year.
“It feels good right now, just kind of trying to get back into the rhythm of things, and getting used to being on the mound,” Taylor said. “Got a little tired there in the second inning. It’s feeling good to be back on the mound.”
The Pirates will now finally get to work on his command, and Taylor said that this was the big focus they’ve expressed to him. Drafting him as an over-slot guy in 2015 was a smart move, since it got him in the system earlier than he would have been if he went to college. The Tommy John surgery essentially means that Taylor has lost that advantage. This would have been his junior year in college, and he would have been draft eligible in 2017, likely going to Morgantown if he was selected.
He is expected to go to Morgantown this year, and instead of pitching for a college team, the Pirates will have him throwing in extended Spring Training, focusing specifically on his command.
“[They] just want me to work on my command, and get to where I can throw the ball where I want to when I need to throw it there,” Taylor said. “It’s just fine tune mechanics, be able to repeat [the delivery].”
We won’t see his progress in this department until the short season leagues begin, but the good news now is that Taylor is fully recovered and able to work on parts of his game, rather than getting healthy.
Marvel is a bit of a different story than Taylor. The Pirates knew Marvel had Tommy John when they drafted him. He was actually in the rehab process when they signed him for $150,000 as a 36th round pick in 2015, and they knew he wouldn’t pitch in a game until the second half of the 2016 season. He made his debut for Morgantown, showing some good performances, but ultimately falling to the consistency issues that can plague a pitcher right when he returns from Tommy John.
“I know the type of pitcher I am, which is why last year was a little frustrating,” Marvel said of the command. “When I’m throwing like I can, and when I’m doing well, my command is pretty good. It’s one of my strengths.”
I got to see Marvel a lot last year, whether it was Spring Training, extended Spring Training, or Morgantown. You can see why the Pirates liked him so much. He attacks the zone with a heavy sinker in the low 90s, getting a lot of weak contact and generating a lot of ground balls. He had a 60% ground ball rate in his debut, and didn’t even have his best stuff in all of those outings.
Just like Taylor, Marvel finds himself in a better position heading into the 2017 season. Last offseason was all about getting his body back on track from the surgery. This offseason was focused on development and fixing things in his game.
“I’m kind of really excited about where I am at physically,” Marvel said. “A pretty productive offseason, not only with throwing, but with workouts in general. I feel strong in having last year under my belt, and knowing what it takes to stay healthy and compete and do well. I think I’m ready to roll.”
Marvel said that his offseason work was all about executing and getting a feel for his pitches. While the command was an issue for him, he noted that not all of his pitches were working in his return.
“I feel a lot further ahead and more consistent with my stuff now,” Marvel said. “I don’t think it was just command last year. It was kind of everything in general. Just getting used to pitching again. How to really rip your curveball, time and time again. How to throw aggressive changeups in the bottom of the zone. I’d throw a couple of good outings in a row, or a couple of good pitches in a row, and it wouldn’t be the same over and over. I think where I am now is pretty encouraging and exciting.”
The big thing Marvel is working on right now is his lower half, and getting into his legs more. Unlike Taylor, we will see some results from Marvel earlier in the year, since he projects to either join West Virginia or Bradenton.
“For the most part, I feel great,” Marvel said. “I’ve been throwing the ball pretty well, and hopefully the consistency with how I’m feeling, with where I’m at mentally, and with a few of the minor tweaks that we’re working on, hopefully from here on out that kind of keeps me rolling.”
Taylor and Marvel are more about stuff and projection right now. They’re both tall, projectable pitchers, with Taylor fitting the power profile, and Marvel being a promising pitch to contact guy who could also have a power profile. We will finally get a chance to see what they can do this year now that they’re beyond Tommy John, and see if they can make the jump from being projectable to being legit prospects.
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.
You insult us Tim! You know we know about these guys!
Both Taylor and Marvel have to be considered longshots, but they are both young at 22 and 23 and not many innings on their arms.
Taylor is 21. Doesn’t turn 22 until July.
Just Wynne baby
Marvel certainly has a Major League name. Hope he has the arm to live up to his Super Hero name.
Being that I live in Louisiana now, and Taylor was committed to LSU prior to signing, I’m intrigued to watch him progress.