Let’s not kid ourselves. Jameson Taillon was supposed to be the man this season.
Or, at the very least, Taillon was supposed to help the Pirates’ rotation in 2014 using the same template Gerrit Cole went by in 2013.
That stencil was oh-so easy to see: Get some additional seasoning in Class AAA Indianapolis for about three months to start the season, gain some confidence and conviction at that level and then, sometime in June, have fans wrapped around PNC Park hours before first pitch to see his Major League debut.
That’s what happened with Cole last season; that’s what was supposed to happen with Taillon this season.
But it all came shrieking to a standstill on Sunday when General Manager Neal Huntington announced the Pirates’ top pitching prospect, at just 22, will have surgery on his elbow to repair a damaged ulnar collateral ligament.
“We gave him a period of rest as part of the original plan,” Huntington said, describing Taillon’s situation. “His symptoms did not subside. We sought other multiple medical opinions and after hearing all the information … Jameson has opted, with our support, to have Tommy John surgery.”
What a shocker, what a revelation.
It’s hard to find even any remote semblance of good news in all of this, but I will give it a shot: The Pirates have five chances to find one guy to replace what, potentially, Taillon was going to give them this season.
In past seasons for the Pirates, the loss of an arm such as Taillon’s would have been debilitating, even if he were projected to not join the big club until June. In this case, however, the Pirates only have to squeeze from Edinson Volquez, Jeanmar Gomez, Brandon Cumpton, Jeff Locke or Stolmy Pimentel what they were anticipating getting from Taillon this season.
That’s right — they just need to go 1 for 5.
Indeed, that doesn’t rectify Taillon’s arm trouble beyond the 2014 season and it doesn’t account for any of the top four starters — Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton, Cole or Wandy Rodriguez — unexpectedly falling off or getting injured, but it does give the Pirates plenty of breathing room for the 2014 season at the tail end of their rotation.
Some already had it penciled in wherein Volquez would be bumped from the rotation — or had pitched himself out of it — by the time Taillon was set to join the big club this season. That might or might not have happened. With Taillon hurt now, that’s a moot point. What can’t be ignored, however, is Volquez recording 16 consecutive outs in a 2-1 victory against St. Louis on Sunday.
Maybe Volquez, not Taillon, will hold down that No. 5 spot in the rotation beyond June.
Or, if Volquez falters, perhaps Gomez or Pimentel will slide in from their middle reliever roles. Both of those gentlemen spent the majority of their careers, before they became Pirates, as starters and one would think in their current roles they could be easily stretched out to starting duty again.
There are also Locke and Cumpton, who will likely get shots; one (Locke) good enough to be named an All-Star last season and the other (Cumpton) good enough to get five starts in 2013 for a Pirates team in the midst of trying to chase down a National League Central pennant.
When news came down on Sunday about Taillon having Tommy John, it was immediately tough to find any silver linings.
But, even as he fared to probably play a big part as this summer progressed for the club, one should take solace in that the 2014 Pirates have bucked a trend for this franchise —- they actually have some starting pitching depth.
That said, all the Pirates need to do is get it right on any of five guys — or a mixture thereof — and for this season at least, they can deal with Taillon’s loss.