Top prospects Cole, Taillon key to defining Bucs' future
Heralded young arms provide dynamic optimism for next Pirates chapter
BRADENTON, Fla.-- The Pittsburgh Pirates are cautious when talking about them. OK, they're as cautious as they can be.
"They're two guys who can help move this organization forward," general manager Neal Huntington said.
Inside the home clubhouse, there are similar sentiments.
"They have it all," Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen said.
How's that for a couple of powerful endorsements? They're referring to Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon, two of baseball's best pitching prospects, crown jewels of the Pirate farm system. The duo top the Pirates' list of Top 20 Prospects.
Somewhere down the road -- perhaps later this season, maybe next season -- the Pirates believe they'll be hugely important in putting the finishing touches on turning around baseball in Pittsburgh.
Now it's just a matter of when. This season? Next season? Stay tuned.
"I think they're going to let us know when they're ready," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
There's a good chance it'll happen this season. Cole, 22, finished the 2012 season at Triple-A, Taillon at Double-A. Neither was overmatched. Both have blazing fastballs and a solid catalog of secondary pitches.
In 49 Minor League starts, Taillon is averaging 9.5 strikeouts and 0.5 walks per nine innings. In 26 starts, Cole is averaging 10.5 strikeouts and 1.5 walks.
Taillon, 21,was taken out of The Woodlands High School (Texas), with the second overall pick of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. Cole, 22, was the first overall pick the next year, out of UCLA.
Both are getting long looks this spring, although the Pirates have veteran starters in front of them. Cole could start the season at Triple-A, Taillon at Double-A. After that, it'll come down to need and who is performing better.
"Our bar is pushed a little higher," Huntington said. "In the past, it was getting them to the big leagues as quickly as we could when they were ready. Now it's about getting them to the point where they can help a team in a winning environment."
Taillon has the added bonus of starting for Team Canada against Team USA on Sunday.
Both players admit to being thrilled about the possibilities. They both know what's expected of them and what it would mean to be part of the team that got the Pirates back to the playoffs for the first time since 1992.
"I think we both feel it," Cole said. "I try not to get too excited. I try to treat it like it's routine and take care of the process. That's really a cliche, but it's one of the hardest things to do. There's a lot of hype and expectations, but we've got to stay focused."
Taillon feels the same way. Good pitching translates at all levels, but it comes down to consistency and approach and confidence.
"It's a cliche, but I just want to keep getting better and more consistent," Taillon said. "I want to get to the point where I still give my team a chance to win one of my bad games. That comes with being consistent in your delivery point and going out there every fifth day."
The Pirates have come so far and improved so much the last two years that it would be silly to make it about two people. Huntington has made one good decision after another. His roster is dotted with a nice mix of young talent and solid veterans, from 24-year-old Starling Marte in left field to 30-year-old Russell Martin behind the plate.
The Pirates, who won 57 games in 2010, have 72 and 79 victories the last two seasons. They faded badly at the end of both, but the progress is obvious.
"We've gotten to taste it, touch it, feel it, taste it," manager Clint Hurdle said.
The Pirates drew 2.09 million fans last season, and amid the sellout crowds and come-from-behind victories, there was a sense that it was only a beginning.
After an offseason in which Huntington added catcher Russell Martin to the everyday lineup, real growth is likely to come from within, from Marte and outfielder Jose Tabata and right-hander James McDonald and others.
But the Pirates have two special pitchers on the horizon, two pitchers capable of defining a franchise for years to come. Huntington said this is "absolutely" the most optimistic he has been about one of his teams, but there appears to be even better days ahead.
"Those are two dynamic arms that are going to make the difference at the top of a rotation," Hurdle said. "We're very excited about their future."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.