Friendly rivals Taillon, Yelich face off

Bucs hurler, Marlins hitter talk history in, out of batter's box

By Andrew Pentis / Special to | July 19, 2012 6:08 AM ET

The first question for Christian Yelich and Jameson Taillon is really just for Yelich.

When baseball's No. 27 overall prospect (Marlins) doubled in his 14th plate appearance against No. 5 overall prospect Taillon (Pirates), did he know that it was the first base knock of their career matchup?

"Oh yeah, definitely knew that," said Class A Advanced Jupiter's Yelich of his two-bagger, which scored the first of five fourth-inning runs against Bradenton's Taillon on May 27. "I told him it was about time. We laughed about it, but we know there are going to be many more times that we are going to face each other."

More on that later. First, how far do you guys go back?

Yelich: We're actually pretty good friends. We played together in the high school circuit, and we were on the same team in the Tournament of Stars out there in Cary, North Carolina.
Taillon: That's like a Team USA Trial type-deal, and that was our junior year going into our senior year.

What were your first impressions of one other as teenagers?

Taillon: I could tell back then Christian was going to be good. I remember being surprised he was pretty fast because, I think at the time, he played first base. I remember we were running our 60s in the outfield and stuff. He ran like a 6.6 or 6.7. That blew me away because I didn't know he also had speed in his game.
Yelich: I remember Jameson being pretty good, one of our better guys, and then he ended up going No. 2 overall in the Draft. Yeah, he had real good stuff.
Taillon: We had lost touch, but the past two years, we have been in the same league and it seems like our teams face each other once a week. So I am always seeing him on the field, seeing his numbers pop up on the big screen. It's been neat to monitor each other's progress.

The Scorecard: Yelich v. Taillon in the Minors
Date Teams AB 1 AB 2 AB 3
5/27/2012 Bradenton @ Jupiter GO RBI 2B
4/29/2012 Bradenton @ Jupiter GO GO RBOE
4/24/2012 Jupiter @ Bradenton F7 F7
8/23/2011 West Virginia @ Greensboro RBOE BB
8/1/2011 Greensboro @ West Virginia L8
6/14/2011 West Virginia @ Greensboro RBOE K
5/2/2011 Greensboro @ West Virginia K Kc

Key: GO (groundout), F (fly out), L (line out), RBOE (reached base on error), BB (base on balls), K (strikeout), Kc (strikeout looking).

Before we get back to your duel on the diamond, do you guys have an elephant's memory when it comes to hitter-pitcher matchups?

Yelich: I'm not of one those guys who looks at the numbers. I mean, I have no idea what my batting average for the whole year is. I kind of like that.
Taillon: I've got some guys I know I have had success against and some guys I haven't had too much success against, but I try not to register that because I want to attack every hitter the same way.
Yelich: Yeah, I normally know if I have had success against a guy or haven't had success against a guy -- I can tell. But I don't have any guy that I'm like, 'Hey, man, I know when I face this guy tonight, I'm going to get two, three hits.'

What makes Taillon difficult to hit against?

Yelich: Every time I go out there to face him, I know it's going to be a tough night. He's got good stuff: mid-to-upper 90s fastball and a hammer curveball and his changeup is getting a lot better too.
Taillon: My four-seam fastball is probably, on an average night, 93 to 97 mph, and I usually sit at 95, 96 and bump it up a little higher. Pretty good command of that. I have a spike curveball as my strikeout pitch and a changeup that, this year, I have been throwing a lot more of. I have a lot more confidence in my changeup; it's been huge for me to be able to throw it in any count -- 2-1, 3-1. I am still learning how to harness all three pitches. Some nights I have all three of 'em there. Some nights, I just have one of 'em there.
Yelich: You don't face too many guys like that. His old teammate, Gerrit Cole, has a similar fastball.

So then what's the plan of attack against Taillon?

Yelich: You got to get something good to hit because he doesn't make very many mistakes. So when you do get one, you can't miss it. I mean, if you get behind him, he's got pretty good put-away pitches. You got to grind it out and battle. You know you're probably not going to be putting up 10 runs that night, but you're trying to scratch out a few.

On the other side, what makes Yelich difficult to pitch to?

Taillon: He's got a really nice swing, a smooth stroke. I've liked lefty swings growing up, looking up to guys who were pure lefty hitters in the big leagues, and I think he falls into that category. He's got a balanced approach, he sees the ball well and over time -- he's got some power now -- but I think he'll develop more power.

So then what's the plan of attack against Yelich?

Taillon: He's always hit in the three-hole -- last year for Greensboro and this year for Jupiter -- so whenever he steps up to the plate, I am trying to get the guys before him out, trying to give them good pitches, make them put it in play, not trying to be too perfect with those guys. Face him with as few people on base as possible. I go right at him with all my pitches but can't show too many fastballs, because he can time it. Can't show him too much of the other stuff because he's good enough to react to hit 'em.

Yelich is a .311 career hitter in the Minors but is batting .077 against you. What part of the plate doesn't he cover?

Taillon: I feel like I just go at every different spot. I don't think he has one of those true holes in his swing. At least, we haven't found it. I'll go in, out, up, down, give him a bunch of different of looks.

OK, let's circle back to that last at-bat when Yelich doubled. What happened?

Taillon: That one sticks out for me. He had two strikes out on 'em, and I actually felt like I was making some really competitive pitches. I threw him a couple of changeups that he fought off, went back to my fastball and it was either 2-2 or 3-2.
Yelich: I remember the fastball. It was a pretty good pitch, and I put a pretty good swing on it.
Taillon: I spotted it down and away and he just went with it, and I think he smacked it off the left-field wall.

So while the score may not be settled, at least Yelich got one on the board.

Yelich: Yeah, he's gotten the better of me so far.
Taillon: Christian texted me and told me we were doing this story and he was like, "What am I supposed to say? I've only got one hit off of you." I have just made some good pitches, and he's a guy I'm always trying to make sure to keep it down to. He's a tough guy to strikeout, and he's put a lot of balls in play, and I know our defense has made some really good plays on him.
Yelich: It's always fun going up against the guys who are the best. I know it's going to be a tough night, it's going to be a battle, and that's fun. I enjoy that.

And obviously you guys are both in National League organizations, so this matchup could be in the making for years to come.

Yelich: Hopefully, we're facing each other 3-400 more times if both our careers work out well and this is just the beginning of something. I got a feeling that's going to happen. It would be cool for both of us, to see where we started out and where it ultimately took us.
Taillon: Yeah, at Double-A and Triple-A, our teams are in different leagues, so we'll take a break from seeing each other and maybe square off again in the big leagues if that times comes -- and, hopefully, he doesn't remember all the pitches I throw by then.

* * *

Prospect Up
Cubs' No. 10 Josh Vitters -- he was No. 6 in the system a year ago -- still won't be the superstar some thought he could become when Chicago drafted him third overall way back in 2007. A scout who has seen the third baseman play this year and in recent years told us that Vitters has been your classic six-o'clock hitter, meaning that he might put on a show during BP but, come game time, exudes less energy and appears to play with added weight on his shoulders. But -- good for him -- Vitters has appeared to lift the burden. Through 93 games at Triple-A Iowa, he's posted .302/.355/.503 at the plate. By comparison, I-Cubs teammate Brett Jackson, ranked second in the organization, has put up .258/.340/.484 marks. Jackson will still end up being the better player, but Vitters is looking more and more like an average-to-above-average big leaguer.

Prospect Down
Rockies' No. 2 and baseball's No. 54 Chad Bettis has the stuff to be a starting pitcher. That much is known. What isn't: Whether his body will let him. Bettis, who won a dozen games in the Cal League in 2011, hasn't yet thrown an official pitch in 2012 and, if he does, it will most likely be as a reliever. Which is all fine and good should his right shoulder respond without surgery, but his career stock certainly takes a tumble if he goes from potential second or third starter to potential eighth- or ninth-inning reliever.

Memo from Mayo
For Draft and prospects expert Jonathan Mayo's analysis, visit's Prospects Central.

Your Questions, Answered
Tweet your prospect-related queries to @AndrewMiLB.

Reading Material

Prospect Tweet Worth Re-tweeting: "Can't say I'm excited about this rode way inn!" -- Justin Nicolino, AKA @J_Nicolino22, with his Class A Lansing club starting a series on Wednesday at Beloit.

Andrew Pentis is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter at AndrewMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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