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Pirates RHP James Taillon – The facts about first-rounders

Posted By Jim Keller On Sep 3 2010 @ 3:38 pm In Pittsburgh Pirates | No Comments


Will James Taillon be the next Josh Beckett or Brien Taylor?

Now that the Pittsburgh Pirates have inked the second overall pick in the 2010 draft to a reported club record $6.5 million bonus, what kind of an impact will James Taillon have and how long will it be before we see the fire-balling righthander and his 97 mph fastball at PNC Park?

With the Pirates’ young hitting talents Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata and Neil Walker, Taillon could be the final piece of the puzzle a few years down the road that could bring the franchise back to respectability.

GM Neal Huntington has concentrated on stockpiling young talent by trading for power pitchers and building through the draft – Pittsburgh has invested $32 million in signing bonuses in the three years since Huntington has been at the helm. Now, Huntington and the other Pirates faithful hope Taillon is the one who puts Pittsburgh over the top.

First, before we craft a bust of Taillon for Cooperstown, let’s do a little research of the draft.

Since the draft began back in 1965, there have been two high school pitchers selected first overall and nine chosen with the second pick, where Taillon fell.


Brien Taylor never reached the major leagues

The two first picks were LHP Brien Taylor of the New York Yankees in 1996 and Texas Rangers LHP David Clyde in 1973.

Taylor, who had reached Class AA by the age of 20 and seemed to have a bright future, had his career ended after breaking his hand in a bar fight. Clyde’s claim to fame was going right to the major leagues after being drafted. The 18-year-old allowed one hit and fanned eight batters in five innings in his first start, but it was all down hill from there.  Over parts of five major league seasons Clyde was 18-33 with a 5.01 ERA.

Of the nine high school pitchers selected with the second pick, three have won 100 games:  active Boston RHP Josh Beckett (drafted in 1999, 109-70), RHP Bill Gullickson (1977, 162-136) and J.R. Richard (1969, 107-71).  The remaining six (Pat Underwood, Mike Lentz, Tommy Boggs, Jay Franklin, Pete Broberg, Les Rohr) combined for 76 wins over their careers and Lentz never even made it to the big leagues. So the odds don’t look quite as good now for the Pirates.

Spreading the analysis out some, there have been a total of 291 high school pitchers selected in the first round (including supplemental picks) from 1965-2005 (We are leaving out picks from 2006-10 since it takes about five years to develop).  Of those 291, twenty one have won 100 games over their careers and 119 never even made it to the major leagues.  LHP Frank Tanana’s 240 lead the pack, followed by RHP Doc Gooden’s 194.  Notice we haven’t mentioned one Hall-of-Famer yet, although active 100-game winners,  C.C. Sabathia, Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter aren’t done yet.

Pittsburgh has had its own bad luck with first-round high school pitchers. The franchise has selected seven, three of whom never even made it to the majors (Bobby Bradley, 1998; Jim Parke, 1976;  John Bedard, 1970). The other four (Sean Burnett, active with the Washington Nationals, Kurt Miller, Rod Scurry and John Morlan) have combined for 31 major league wins.

So this study shows selecting a high school pitcher in the first round – let alone among the top two picks – is a very risky proposition.  In the case of Beckett, it won the Marlins a World Series in 2003 (complete game in clincher) and the Red Sox in 2007 (4-0 in the postseason), but odds are getting a Brien Taylor or Tommy Boggs (20-44) is much more likely.

How fast can we expect to see Taillon?  So far, two members of the 2007 draft have pitched in the majors:  Detroit RHP Rick Porcello and San Francisco LHP Madison Bumgarner. Dodgers LHP Clayton Kershaw is the only 2006 draftee pitching in the major leagues and there are five pitchers from the ’05 class with major league experience, but the only name anybody would recognize is Florida RHP Chris Volstad.

Prominent active first-round high school pitchers are Yankees RHP Phil Hughes, Dodgers RHP Chad Billingsley, White Sox LHP John Danks, San Francisco RHP Matt Cain, Philadelphia LHP Cole Hamels, Kansas City RHP  Zack Greinke, White Sox RHP Gavin Floyd (drafted by Philadelphia), St. Louis RHP Adam Wainwright, Philadelphia RHP Brett Myers and Yankees RHP Kerry Wood (drafted by the Cubs).   The oldest active is Trever Miller, who was chosen in 1991 by Detroit.

So there have been some high-ceiling hurlers chosen out of high school, but even if Taillon has success and is put on the fast track, it will take at least three years for him to reach the major leagues.

The Pirates are playing high stakes poker with Taillon.  High risk, high reward.

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