Pirates Prospect Primer: Taillon back in black

Finally healthy, 24-year-old righty looks to return stronger than before

Jameson Taillon allowed two runs and six hits in two Grapefruit League appearances this spring. (Dave Arrigo/Pittsburgh Pirates)

By Alex Kraft / MiLB.com | March 30, 2016 10:30 AM

Some players are on the verge of stardom, others are entering a crucial phase of their development and still others are getting their first tastes of full-season ball. With the 2016 season approaching, MiLB.com takes a look at the most intriguing prospects from each MLB organization.

Back and healthy: Jameson Taillon, RHP

After two years of rehab, the second overall pick from the 2010 Draft is ready to pitch again.

The 6-foot-5 right-hander last appeared in a regular-season game in 2013, when he went 5-10 with a 3.73 ERA and 143 strikeouts in 147 1/3 innings between Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis. Taillon lost his 2014 season following Tommy John surgery and had his return in 2015 derailed by an inguinal hernia.

Two years away from the mound could be cause for concern, but the 24-year-old insists he spent the time well. He hired a nutritionist to help revamp his diet, worked out in his hometown of Houston, Texas at the same facility as Pirates closer Mark Melancon and attempted to hone his mechanics with the help of Minor League pitching coordinator Scott Mitchell, pitching coach Scott Elarton and former special assistant to Pittsburgh GM Jim Benedict.

"I think it's something I can take with me through the rest of my career," Taillon told MiLB.com. "If I were playing for those two years, I don't think I would have been able to accomplish exactly what I did. I definitely don't want to be hurt, but I kind of got to go back to the drawing board, get away from the lights and just simplify everything."

Major League-ready: Tyler Glasnow, RHP

The Pirates did precious little in the offseason to replace the departures of A.J. Burnett, J.A. Happ and Charlie Morton from their rotation, and the proximity of Glasnow may have been part of the reason.

The 6-foot-8 right-hander fought off an early-season ankle injury last year and dominated with a 2.39 ERA and 136 strikeouts over 109 1/3 innings between Altoona, Indianapolis and a two-start rehab stint for Class A Short Season West Virginia.

There is still work to be done before MLB.com's No. 10 overall prospect makes the jump to "The Show." The Pirates would like to see him improve his command and work on being quicker to the plate, and he'll have a chance to prove himself in Triple-A to start the year. If he continues to baffle International League hitters, the 22-year-old could give the big league rotation a shot in the arm, much like Gerrit Cole did as a rookie in 2013.

"As far as the raw stuff, it's all there," Pirates director of Minor League operations Larry Broadway said in an interview with MiLB.com. "The fastball's there. The spin, the shape of the breaking ball, that stuff is there. It's the overall consistency of it all."

Full-season debutant: Kevin Newman, SS

Depending on whom you ask, Newman is either a decent player with above-average hitting abilities or a budding superstar. MLB.com is in the latter group, ranking Newman as the Pirates 11th-best prospect.

To his credit, Newman performed well in his first professional season. After a slow start with the short-season Black Bears, the Arizona University product slashed .306/.376/.367 in 23 games once he was called up to the Class A South Atlantic League. He also had six steals and an 8-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

The knock on Newman is his lack of a second plus tool to complement his hitting, and the focus often falls on his poor power. That problem likely won't be solved this season -- the California native is ticketed for the Class A Advanced Florida State League, a circuit notorious for suppressing power numbers. Still, the Pirates are pleased with Newman as he is.

"I think he's a very solid defensive player at shortstop," said Broadway. "He moves around. He's got explosive feet, good arm strength. Plus, he's got a head on his shoulders. There's game awareness, baseball IQ.

"Offensively, he's more gap-to-gap. He's got a good feel for the strike zone, got a good ability to put the barrel on it. And he's got some run tool in there to be able to steal some bases, go first to third, create havoc and create favorable situations for the guys behind him."

Breakout prospect: Yeudy Garcia, RHP

At 23 years old, the Pirates pushed Garcia with a full-season assignment last year -- despite the fact he had never played above the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League -- and the righty passed wih flying colors.

The 6-foot-3, 185-pound hurler posted a 2.10 ERA -- fourth-best in the Minor Leagues -- and finished second in the organization behind Glasnow with 112 strikeouts in 30 appearances (21 starts) for Class A West Virginia. He stands at No. 18 on the Pirates' prospect rankings.

That could change quickly. Garcia is still a bit raw, but his ability to miss bats gives him a chance to start climbing the ranks. The native of the Dominican Republic struck out 8.1 batters per nine innings last year, and that number only figures to rise as his command and secondary pitches improve to complement a high-90's fastball. Coupled with his maturity, it's not difficult to see Garcia carrying himself to Double-A -- or further -- if he stays hot in the Florida State League.

At the crossroads: Alen Hanson, 2B

Hanson came out of the gates flying last season, batting a scorching .362/.403/.595 in May and being named the International League Player of the Month. That proved to be the high point of his season. The 23-year-old hit just .215/.275/.314 in the second half.

The native of the Dominican Republic has great speed and natural abilities, but questions linger about the mental aspect of his game. In 2014, Hanson was notoriously benched several games by Altoona manager Carlos Garcia for an apparent lack of hustle. The former shortstop was moved to second base full time after he made 29 errors over 100 contests at shortstop.

Hanson will start the season back in Triple-A. With Neil Walker traded to the Mets and Jung Ho Kang opening the season on the disabled list, there are opportunities available in Pittsburgh's infield. It will just be a matter of whether or not Hanson is able seize them.

Prospect Primer

More to keep an eye on: Josh Bell will return to Triple-A Indianapolis. The former outfielder has worked hard to improve his defense at first base entering his second full season at the position. ... Austin Meadows remained healthy for all of 2015, but his good fortune ran out earlier this month when he was struck in the face while playing catch and fractured his orbital bone. He is expected to miss at least four weeks to start the year. ... Nick Kingham is looking to make his return from a yearlong absence after Tommy John surgery. When the 24-year-old takes the mound, he'll eventually combine with Taillon, Chad Kuhl, Trevor Williams and Steven Brault to form a blue-chip rotation in Indianapolis. ...Harold Ramirez turned some heads with his performance in the Grapefruit League (11-for-19 with two doubles in 11 games) after batting .337/.399/.458 in 80 games last year for Class A Advanced Bradenton. The 21-year-old outfielder aims to keep swinging a hot stick in Double-A.

Alex Kraft is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and chat with him on Twitter @Alex_Kraft21. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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