The South Atlantic League has as much raw talent taking the field on a nightly basis as the Class A circuit has had in recent memory. A perfect example was seen last week when West Virginia hosted Hagerstown.
The April 27 matchup featured Suns slugger Bryce Harper, the first overall pick in the 2010 Draft, facing Power pitcher Jameson Taillon, the second overall selection last June who was making his professional debut.
The matchup proved uneventful as Harper walked on five pitches in his only at-bat against Taillon, who departed after two full innings when heavy rains suspended the contest. While much has been made of Harper and his rapid ascent from junior college in Nevada to the professional ranks, the right-handed Taillon was no consolation prize for Pittsburgh. In fact, had the Pirates owned the first overall pick, team officials insist they would have taken Taillon instead of Harper.
Only time will tell how the careers of both players unfold, but in Taillon's case, the 19-year-old Texan has shown everything the Pirates projected. His first professional pitch -- one of 28 he threw in the first inning -- lit up radar guns at Appalachian Power Park at 96 mph. Most of his fastballs registered in the 96-98 mph range, with Taillon admitting he was "amped up" despite the soggy conditions.
"Everything's going great," Taillon said. "For the most part [the Pirates] have kept all my pitches the same -- four-seam [fastball], spike curve, changeup. My changeup has gotten tons better by getting extension on top of the ball. The thing I'm probably working on most is the command of my four-seam fastball so that I can throw it any time in the count when I need to."
The changeup and his mid-80s curveball were apparent during Taillon's second appearance. On May 2 against Greensboro, he tossed four shutout innings and struck out six batters, including Christian Yelich, the Marlins' first-round pick in 2010, on two occasions. Thirty-seven of his 52 offerings were strikes, with the right-hander fanning the side in the second.
"I've felt good and I'm having a blast," Taillon said. "I'm getting used to playing every day. I've always had great fortune with my arm. I've taken care of it and never had any problems with it. In many ways, it's a state of mind, coming out every day, stretching and throwing. I embrace coming out every day. I enjoy what I do; this is what I've always wanted."
Taillon signed at the deadline last August for a reported $6.5 million bonus, the second-largest in Draft history. His entry into pro ball came on the heels of a senior season at The Woodlands High School, where he posted a 1.78 ERA and 114 strikeouts in 62 innings, including a 19-strikeout performance while tossing a no-hitter. While his late signing limited his pro participation to instructional league, Taillon showed during that stint as well as throughout Spring Training an impressive repertoire and outstanding makeup that should make his trek to the big leagues smooth, albeit conservative.
"I was expecting them to tell me everything I need to work on, so I could fix some things and go from there," said Taillon, adding that his primary goals center around building endurance and learning the nuances of the game. "The Pirates have told me they're going to be real slow with everything and they understand I got here for a reason. Everything they do has a reason behind it. In the meantime, I'm just looking forward to going out there and learning everything I can."
Good to be Bryce: It's good to be Bryce in the SAL. In addition to Harper, who ranks 10th in the league with a .358 batting average and fifth with a .679 slugging percentage, Asheville catcher Bryce Massanari (third in average at .388) and Greenville outfielder Bryce Brentz (ninth, .363) are enjoying remarkable success early on. Brentz is first in the SAL with 27 runs scored, tied for first with 37 hits and three triples and second with 67 total bases. Massanari is second with 23 RBIs and a .718 slugging percentage and fourth with 61 total bases.
Machado honored: Delmarva shortstop Manny Machado, the third overall pick in the 2010 Draft, was honored by the Orioles as their Minor League Player of the Month for April. The 18-year-old shortstop, who was named SAL Player of the Week for April 25-May 1, hit .338 with four homers, 18 RBIs and 10 multi-hit outings in 21 games during the month. Machado played a significant role in the Shorebirds' 11-game winning streak that ended with an 11-0 loss to Charleston on May 3.
Rome burning: In a strange scheduling quirk, Hagerstown, a member of the Northern Division, already has played two four-game series at State Mutual Stadium in Rome, residents of the Southern Division. Not that the Suns are complaining. After an 8-2 victory on May 3, Hagerstown is 8-0 against the R-Braves. Fortunately for Rome, the teams do not meet again in 2011.