In 2010 the Pittsburgh Pirates selected a stud right handed pitcher straight out of high school in Texas named Jameson Taillon and while nobody could justifiably call him a bust he certainly has had a rocky and injury plagued career.
His personal challenges and will to recover are certainly admirable but he is uniquely qualified to act as a timeline for the past ten years of Pirates baseball.
In his time, he’s been the hope of a brighter future, the perfect compliment to another top pick taken the very next season Gerrit Cole and eventually the expected ace of the staff, but every step of the way his timeline has shifted to battle back from injuries that would have shut a lesser man down for good.
All the way back in 2010 the Pirates were looking to change the way they’d done business, especially when it came to drafting young talent. Back then the draft was in many ways the wild wild west and signing players was less structured. And the Pirates had gotten precious little from a historic run of top 4 picks from 2006-2009, this string would actually continue through 2011 culminating in Gerrit Cole.
Jameson was selected number 2 overall and had already signed a letter of intent to attend Rice University. The media had all but assumed the Pirates missed again, Jamo looked sure to push aside the Bucs and head off to college, but in the eleventh hour they got the deal done, signing the big Canadian-Texan to a 6.5 Million dollar signing bonus, at the time the second highest in MLB draft history. Doesn’t sound very Piratey does it?
Everything went great, he was an MLB top 10 prospect appearing in Futures games, World Baseball classics and MiLB all star games, he was on track to make his debut in 2014, smack dab in the middle of the window that had opened up in Pittsburgh.
Then it happened, that twinge. As so many young pitchers eventually learn, they aren’t machines, they’re human beings, and the human body was not built to do what they do to it. Tommy John surgery was required.
Many people recognized what a blow this was both for him and the club but they had another stud on the way so somehow at least from a fan perspective the blow was lessened.
If this were just the initial injury there would still be a good chance he’d find his way back to the mound sometime in 2015 anyway so things would still work out many of us thought. Unfortunately Taillon suffered a sports hernia during his rehab and had to again be shut down.
To his credit Jamo never quit. A very smart guy, Taillon could have easily taken his signing bonus cash and gone about his life’s work but he considered that to be a MLB pitcher and he was willing to put in the work that it would require.
He finally made his way back to the mound in 2016 and after only 10 starts for Indianapolis he got his first call up to the big club. He’d receive a no-decision in his call up game and be sent back down but ironically an injury to Gerrit Cole provided another opportunity, one he wouldn’t let go. Facing the Mets for the second time in his second start he threw 8 scoreless innings and carried a no-hitter into the seventh. He’d never be sent back down. Jamo had arrived.
Excitement grew in Pittsburgh, yeah for the first time in 3 seasons the Bucs missed the playoffs but we were staring down the barrel at a rotation with Jameson and Gerrit as the 1-2 but fate struck again. In May of 2017 Taillon was diagnosed with testicular cancer and while he only missed a little more than a month he clearly wasn’t in top form upon his return. Jamo is good enough that his 80% is still better than most but the next season carried extra weight.
2018 would be an injury free season and his 3.20 ERA in 32 starts felt like he was finally here to accept his mantle. The next year started out looking much the same but after only 7 starts he was shut down with forearm tightness. After rehabbing it was determined he would need to undergo a second Tommy John procedure a devastating blow both for Jameson and the club itself.
Now, I haven’t told you anything you didn’t already know, but sometimes it’s good to put it all in one place to really put things in perspective.
Coming back from one thing like this isn’t a given, let alone all he’s gone through and while it sounds selfish look at what Jameson’s timeline has done to the Pirates. How many times has he been counted on to be at least one of the top pitchers in the rotation? The injuries completely robbed us from having he and Cole together which really would have changed some things would it not.
Throughout the rehab process Jameson has continually provided us with documentation of his recovery.
Hard not to get excited to see him firing the ball again, working on baseball stuff rather than just re-learning how to throw again. Potentially harder to let yourself get excited because through no fault of his own the man has been snake bitten.
His name has surfaced in trade rumors recently and who knows how seriously to take them, but make no mistake if he suits up in black and gold whenever this season starts he’ll step right in with expectation, fair or not.
I never question the mental toughness of the young man, but you also can’t ignore history. Along those lines, I think it’s fair to ask would he have already long since been traded if he hadn’t been plagued by all these setbacks? My heart likes to think no but my brain says absolutely.
If that’s so, perhaps in the end we’ll finally get to watch him really launch his career this season, fresh with new mechanics intended to reduce the strain on his arm and maximize his effectiveness.
If he never gets another out on a major league mound he’s forever earned my admiration and while we always will have that hint of what could have been, let’s try to remember how hard he’s fought to give us what could be.