BATTLE OF THE TAIS: Jameson Taillon vs. Taijuan Walker Prospect Smackdown
Two of the best right-handed pitching prospects in the game are Pittsburgh Pirates prospect Jameson Taillon and Seattle Mariners prospect Taijuan Walker. Today we will have the Battle of the Tais and see who comes out ahead.
Taillon: Rated as the top high school pitching prospect in the 2010 draft by most experts, Taillon was a star at The Woodlands in Texas and was the second-overall pick in the draft, earning a $6.5 million bonus. At the time this was the second-highest bonus in draft history, and some scouts liked him better than number one-overall pick Bryce Harper. Taillon's makeup is highly-regarded, as he's considered both intelligent and dedicated to the game.
Walker: Walker played high school baseball in Yucaipa, California, but was better-known as a superior basketball player. On the diamond, he usually played shortstop and didn't take up pitching full-time until his senior year, but he was impressive enough to earn an $800,000 bonus as the 43rd overall pick. Walker has thrived in pro ball, showing intelligence and a great work ethic on the mound.
Advantage: This is a matter of taste really. Taillon had a higher profile and was better-known as an amateur, but Walker's reputation has caught up, and both have the emotional and intellectual attributes to be major league staff anchors.
PHYSICALITY, STUFF, AND HEALTH
Taillon: Jameson Taillon is a 6-6, 225 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born November 18, 1991. He is a fine natural athlete, and might fill out a bit more and add further strength. He's already plenty strong with a 94-97 MPH fastball clocked as high as 99 at times, although in some starts he worked at 91-93. As they do with most of their young pitchers, the Pirates had Taillon concentrate on fastball command last year and he didn't use his secondary pitches a great deal. His changeup needs work and he's expected to throw it more often in 2012, but his curveball is excellent. Reports on his slider are mixed, with some sources rating it as plus and others just average. Nevertheless, the fastball/curveball/slider arsenal gives him three strong pitches already, and if the changeup develops as expected, he'll have four. His command is solid for a young power pitcher and he repeats his mechanics well. He has had no significant physical problems and the Pirates were careful with his workload.
Walker: Walker is a 6-4, 210 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born August 13, 1992. As you would expect from his basketball background, he is a tremendous natural athlete and could gain further strength and velocity. He already throws 91-95 MPH, hitting 97-98 at times, with excellent movement on his fastball. Walker's breaking ball (at the time a mediocre slider) needed to be reworked when he signed, but he developed an excellent curveball last year. His changeup is still in progress but has a good chance to be above-average. If all works out, he'll have at least three plus pitches. His control was better than anticipated and he repeats his delivery well, especially given his experience level. His arm is fresh, he's had no significant physical problems, and the Mariners were careful with his workload last year.
Advantage: This is also very close. Taillon has a bit more peak velocity, but Walker's fastball has a bit more movement. Taillon has a better curveball and slider, but Walker's curve is certainly promising. Both of them are working on their changeups. Both of them need further command refinements but both already throw strikes more effectively than most young power pitchers. Walker is nine months younger and a better pure athlete, and that could give him the barest edge here.
Taillon: Taillon posted a 3.98 ERA with a 97/22 K/BB in 93 innings last year for Low-A West Virginia in the South Atlantic League, allowing 89 hits with a 1.13 GO/AO. His ERA was higher than it could have been given the components, and his FIP was better at 3.37. Interestingly, he had more problems with right-handed hitters than with lefties last year. Right-handers hit .278 with eight homers against him, while lefties hit just .205 with one homer. This could reflect the emphasis the Pirates placed on his fastball.
Walker: Walker posted a 2.89 ERA with a 113/39 K/BB in 97 innings for Low-A Clinton in the Midwest League last year, with 69 hits allowed and a 1.54 GO/AO. His ERA reflected his performance accurately, as shown by his 2.70 FIP. He was effective against both left-handed (.220, two homers) and right-handed (.187 two homers) hitters and was especially good at forcing lefties to hit the ball on the ground (3.18 GO/AO).
Advantage: The Midwest League is a friendlier pitching environment than the Sally League, so Walker had an advantage there, but even accounting for that his performance was more dominating than Taillon's, with superior K/IP and H/IP ratios and more ground balls. Taillon was no slouch and walked fewer hitters, but I think you have to give Taijuan the edge here.
Taillon: Many scouts believe Taillon will become a number one starter, and even the ones who aren't quite as enthusiastic still see him as a future number two. This assumes he stays healthy, of course, and that his changeup develops as anticipated.
Walker: With good health and proper development of his changeup, Walker also projects as a number one or two starter.
Advantage: Both could/should develop into guys you build your staff around. Walker's ultimate ceiling may be just a tiny bit higher, but he also has farther to go developing his command
It is very close. I rate them as even in background/intangibles, and both project as rotation anchors. I think Walker has a slight edge in current performance, and he's both younger and a bit more athletic than Taillon. Ultimately, I rated Walker as Number Six on my Top 50 Pitching Prospect list in the 2012 Baseball Prospect Book, with Taillon Number Seven. On the 2012 Minor League Ball Top 120 Prospects List, Walker ranked 15th and Taillon 16th.