Jameson Taillon knew the Pirates would take things slowly in his first full season, that they would, in the industry parlance, treat him with kid gloves.
And why not? The team had invested a large amount in the No. 2 overall pick's right arm, and as a high school pitcher, he would be increasing the amount he would be pitching exponentially. Combine that with the fact that, philosophically, the Pirates tend to move prospects a bit conservatively out of the gate, and Taillon knew how things would go in 2011. That didn't mean it wasn't tough for him as the season progressed.
"It was kind of difficult at times," Taillon said. "There are outings when you're absolutely dealing and there are outings when you're grinding. It's always tough when you know your bullpen is thin and you want to give them seven strong innings, and they're taking you out in four or five innings. They just said trust the plan. I came to grips with that and it made it easier."
"You don't understand until you've gone through it," Taillon said. "I know I started the year strong, then dipped in July, then finished really strong. This offseason, I'm working to make sure that dip doesn't happen in July. I know what the results will be, so it's all worth it.
"I learned a lot, from the bus rides to the pitch selection to that routine of pitching every fifth day. I took a lot away from it."
He's hoping all of it will help him spend more time on the mound in 2012, with the hopes that the gloves will come off a bit and he can start showing what kind of starting pitcher many hope he will ultimately become.
"I'm ready to take on however many innings they'll throw my way," Taillon said. "I want to go out there and give the team a lot of innings. A guy like Justin Verlander, every time he went out there, he was going seven, eight innings, or a complete game. It would be nice to be that guy. I'm looking forward to building them up."
Top 10 review
While Taillon took a decent step forward, his fellow 2010 draftee Stetson Allie struggled a bit more. Coming out of the Draft, Taillon was thought to be the more polished pitcher, and that's how things began. Allie pitched for short-season State College, and while he showed off the arm strength -- he struck out 28 in 26 innings -- he also showed command problems, walking 29. He did finish with four straight scoreless outings, in relief, and many do see him as a future closer. But some take longer than others and the Pirates will surely remain patient with his powerful right arm.
The Pirates' Top 10 in 2011 was very pitching heavy, with eight of the 10 working from the mound. The remaining six hurlers had mixed results. Luis Heredia, who turned just 17 in August, showed encouraging things in his U.S. debut. Lefty Jeff Locke took a nice step forward and ended the year making four starts for the Pirates. Fellow southpaw Colton Cain had a solid full-season debut with West Virginia. On the flip side, Rudy Owens, who many thought would help out in Pittsburgh in 2011, scuffled in Triple-A, Bryan Morris finally started finding a home in the bullpen after struggling with an oblique injury early and Zack Von Rosenberg did not match Cain's West Virginia success.
Even with all the pitching on the list, it was actually an outfielder who had the most success of anyone on the Top 10. Starling Marte turned in a stellar season, hitting for average, some developing power and plenty of speed, all while making the difficult jump to Double-A.
Pirates' top 10 prospects
|1.||Jameson Taillon, RHP||Taillon|
|2.||Stetson Allie, RHP||Allie|
|3.||Tony Sanchez, C||Heredia|
|4.||Rudy Owens, LHP||Sanchez|
|5.||Bryan Morris, RHP||Marte|
|6.||Luis Heredia, RHP||Owens|
|7.||Jeff Locke, LHP||Locke|
|8.||Starling Marte, OF||Morris|
|9.||Zack Von Rosenberg, RHP||Cain|
|10.||Colton Cain, LHP||Von Rosenberg|
MLB.com's Preseason Picks
Tony Sanchez, C: The debate was whether to pick Sanchez or Marte, with the nod going to Sanchez, thinking he'd hit for average, show some extra-base pop and perhaps even get promoted. While he did stay healthy, he hit just .241/.340/.318 and stayed in Double-A all year.
Jameson Taillon, RHP: Taillon, it was predicted, would dominate the South Atlantic League, even if the Pirates took it slow with him. He certainly had moments and struck out better than a batter per inning, but his 3.98 ERA and .249 batting average against were not quite Pitcher of the Year numbers.
MLB.com's Postseason Selections
Starling Marte, OF: The preseason coin flip should have gone to him. Marte's .332 average was second in the system, and he also stole 24 bases and slugged .500. He set career highs in just about every offensive category, was named an Eastern League All-Star and participated in the Futures Game.
Kyle McPherson, RHP: McPherson began the year in Bradenton and made a successful jump to Double-A midseason, finishing 2011 with the most strikeouts in the organization (142 vs. just 27 walks), second in wins (12) and ERA (2.96).