Even though he’s a Yankee, Jameson Taillon may be one of the easiest players to root for in all of Major League Baseball. Drafted second overall by my beloved Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2010 Amateur Draft, the Lakeland Florida native was inked just hours before the signing deadline. Considered by Fangraphs to be the best high school pitching prospect since Josh Becket, Taillon received a six and a half million dollar signing bonus, the second largest signing bonus ever at the time. (Stephen Strasburg held the record, receiving seven and a half million the previous year) .
The 6’5″ Right Hander pitched well over his first few season in the minors, posting ERAs in the mid to upper threes, while carrying strong strikeout to walk ratios. By the end of 2013 he had pitched his way to 3.73 ERA over 25 starts between AA and AAA and had been ranked as the 15th overall prospect by MLB.com. The Buccos (who drafted Gerrit Cole in 2011) looked primed to bring Taillon up to the majors during the 2014 season to join what was at the time a very exciting Pirate squad. Instead, 2014 would be the beginning of several very difficult years for Taillon.
TJ for JT
A damaged UCL and subsequent Tommy John surgery would force Taillon to miss the entire 2014 season. Following that, he hit a snag during his rehab and would require hernia surgery that would sideline him for the entire 2015 season as well. But Taillon displayed excellent resolve and worked his way back to make ten starts in AAA Indianapolis in 2016, where he excelled with a 2.04 ERA and would finally make his MLB debut that same year. Taillon found immediate success at the top level, pitching 104 innings while carrying strong 3.38 ERA, 1.11 WHIP with an elite 5:1 strikeout to walk ratio. After working his way back from two full seasons lost to injury and with such a strong showing as a rookie to go along with his draft pedigree, the sky looked like the limit for Jameson Taillon.
Then Jameson faced his scariest opponent to date: testicular cancer. Taillon would undergo surgery in May of 2017, and amazingly miss only about one month before returning to the Pirate’s rotation in mid June. I had my own scare with cancer a couple years ago. Like Jameson I was lucky enough to catch it early and underwent an operation to remove it. Also like Taillon, I believe that the experience was transformative. Even though my experience was also, mercifully short lived, (I was also declared cancer free following surgery just a short time after being diagnosed), there is at least a short period of time where the prognosis is entirely unknown, and unlike rehabbing from a physical injury, much of it is out of the patient’s control.
Thankfully for Jameson, his experience with cancer went about as well as it possibly could. He returned to the mound just a little over a month after he hit the IL and finished his 2017 season with a 8-7 record and 4.44 ERA. He credits the ordeal with making him a “different” and “more mature person” in an ESPN interview from 2018.
Back in Action
In 2018, having come back from Tommy John surgery, an operation to repair a hernia, and beating cancer, Taillon would finally pitch his first full, IL stint-free MLB season. He made 32 starts, finishing the season with a 3.20 ERA, a 1.18 WHIP, and 179 strikeouts with just 46 walks over a career high 191 innings. It was wonderful to see him have such a successful season following such a difficult year. After years of struggling through health issues, Taillon was finally healthy and living up his enormous potential.
However, in 2019 the injury bug bit Taillon once again. He was only able make seven starts before a flexor tendon and UCL issues sent him under the knife for his second Tommy John (technically a flexor tendon and UCL revision) operation in August. Taillon missed the remainder of 2019 and all of 2020 recovering and rehabbing from the surgery, and would not pitch again for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
A Fresh Start
The Pirates traded Taillon to the New York Yankees in January of 2021 for a package of four players, including current Major Leaguers Miguel Yajure and Roansy Contreras. After missing nearly two entire years again, Taillon didn’t exactly set the world on fire during his first season as a Yankee. He tossed 144.1 innings, posting an 8-6 record with a 4.30 ERA and 1.206 WHIP while compiling a solid 140 strikeouts to go along with 44 walks. Despite the pedestrian ERA, the 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings was the best mark of his career. Of course there were haters among Yankee fans who, having seen just one post-2nd Tommy John season of Taillon thought the Yankees had gotten fleeced, but those fans are probably a lot happier watching 2022 Taillon pitch for the AL’s best team right now. Roansy Contreras does look pretty good though…
Jameson finished the 2021 season pitching through a leg injury in his final few starts, and underwent yet another operation and rehabilitation process to repair the longus tendon in his ankle. Practically bionic at this point, Taillon has a reconstructed pitching elbow and a super-tendon in his ankle. He’s also having his best Major League season to date.
Fourteen starts and 79 innings into the 2022 season, Jameson Taillon holds an 8-1 record. Despite his last start being a rough outing in Houston in which he allowed six earned runs (coming from two three-run bombs) his current 3.19 ERA and 1.11 WHIP would both rate as career bests. He’s got the best walk rate of his career at just one free pass per nine innings (99th percentile!), and even though his strikeout rate is below average at just 7.2 per nine innings, he has an excellent strikeout to walk ratio of 7-1 approaching the half way point of the season.
From a performance perspective, Taillon has just about everything going for him except big strikeout totals. He’s in the top 25% of the league in hard hit percentage, barrel percentage, chase rate, and walk rate. The only other knock is that he’s only pitched six or more innings three times this year, so his eight wins only come with three quality starts. The Yankees have a phenomenal bullpen so that trend may continue, but he’s been a good to very good pitcher for most of his career and all signs point to his continued success.
However, as you may have noticed, this article is a bit of a departure from the typical analysis I’ve done so far. There are no charts or graphs delving into small variations in BABIP or pitch selections. Sometimes it might be too easy to think about players as a big piles of data points and statistics, especially with all the information we now have available. But even with all the physical gifts and tools at their disposal, the journey to the Major Leagues can difficult and painful and daunting.
Jameson Taillon is a tremendously talented athlete, but he’s also shown rare levels of determination, fortitude and poise to overcome several major injuries and a potentially life threatening health scare that make him not just a player to root for, but a person to truly admire. At Pitcher List we want every pitcher to be dope, but I want Taillon to be even doper than most.
Featured Image by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter)