With the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, the Pirates selected Jameson Taillon, a 6-foot-6, 225-pound right-hander, out of The Woodlands High School in Montgomery County, Texas.
Taillon carried significant hype and promise, getting called the "best high-school pitching prospect since Josh Beckett" and drawing comparisons to elite talents such as Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg.
At No. 2 overall, the pick made sense for the Pirates.
Now, 10 years removed from that draft, however, we have the power of hindsight. We know what Taillon's done for the Pirates, and we know the options the Pirates could have had instead in that 2010 MLB Draft.
Let's dig in and decide if the Pirates made the right call ... or if they should've gone another direction.
This discussion is completely invalidated if we don't set some parameters. We gotta frame the talking points.
The story with Taillon cannot be evaluated without addressing his various hurdles, starting with Tommy John surgery in 2014 then carrying into surgery to remove a cancerous growth on his testicle in 2017 and rounding out with another Tommy John surgery, this one in August of 2019, which will sideline him for all of 2020.
Any one of those twists could crush a young player. Taillon, however, has repeatedly bounced back. Where character, resolve and grit are concerned, few can touch what Taillon brings to the table. Now, Taillon, 28, fully plans to return in 2021, and he's already showing encouraging signs on that front, including a new arm action:
First time throwing 4X in a week. Feeling strong, and moving right along in the process 💪 Enjoying every step of this rehab journey, and learning tons along the way! pic.twitter.com/Ef2IVG24hk
— Jameson Taillon (@JTaillon19) May 7, 2020
All this matters in the discussion.
If you want to factor in injuries, Taillon is 100 percent not the choice at No. 2 overall in 2010. Those mental and physical triumphs don't win baseball games, and Taillon's been limited to just 82 starts since making his Major League Baseball debut in 2016. He's never reached his peak, either, topping out with a 14-10 2018 season which saw him post a 3.20 ERA/1.178 WHIP/3.46 FIP with 179 strikeouts in 191 innings pitched.
Just as it looked like Taillon was ready to take that next step in 2019 ... another injury. He pitched just 37.1 innings in 2019 before being shut down, leaving many to wonder what could have been. He'll come back, but it's reasonable after two Tommy John surgeries to believe we may never see better than that 2018 effort from him.
As I noted in my breakdown of the Pirates' recent top-10 picks, though, Taillon was still an elite selection at No. 2 overall. He has the talent, the size, the repertoire, the pedigree, the mental makeup — everything you want in a starting pitcher is there. Every team in baseball wants a fully healthy Taillon on their roster.
But then you look around that 2010 class and see the other options available. It's tough to ignore. Starting with:
MANNY MACHADO, 3B/SS
One pick after the Pirates took Taillon, the Orioles selected Manny Machado, a 17-year-old infielder bringing both stellar defense and serious pop at the plate with him. Machado was (and is) an All-Star. To date, he's made four All-Star teams, won two Gold Gloves and finished fourth (2015) and fifth (2016) in the league's MVP voting.
For five consecutive seasons, Machado's hit 32-plus home runs, and he recently cashed out all these goodies with a 10-year, $300 million with the Padres, which he signed in February of 2019.
Machado's a beast.
And the Pirates could've had him at No. 2.
Knowing what Christian Yelich has done at the big-league level — NL MVP, two-time All-Star, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, two-time NL batting champion, etc. etc. (no, seriously, I could keep going) — it seems impossible that he slipped all the way to No. 23 in the 2010 MLB Draft.
But he did.
Yelich was good for the Marlins ... but he's blossomed into one of the game's best with the Brewers. After being traded in January of 2018 to Milwaukee, Yelich came to life, earning both his All-Star nods, the NL MVP and both batting titles during his stay in Cream City. His 2019 campaign was cut short due to an unfortunate knee injury in mid-September, but just look at these combined stats since the trade:
- .327/.415/.631, 80 home runs, 207 RBIs, 52 stolen bases, 63 doubles, 10 triples, 171 OPS+
I mean ... what?
Yeah, safe to say Yelich would have been an OK selection for the Pirates at No. 2.
CHRIS SALE / JACOB DEGROM
Taillon was the highest-drafted pitcher in the 2010 MLB Draft (Bryce Harper went No. 1 overall), but either Chris Sale or Jacob deGrom can make the case for being the best.
DeGrom has the more elite upside — and two NL Cy Young awards to show for it — but Sale's volume and consistency is tough to ignore.
Sale made his MLB debut in 2010 and immediately stuck at the highest level, already racking up 232 starts, 109 wins, 2,007 strikeouts and an immaculate inning while posting a cumulative 3.03 ERA/1.035 WHIP/2.90 FIP in his professional career. For this, he's been named an All-Star seven times, and he's constantly in the Cy Young discussion, coming in sixth (2012), fifth (2013, 2016), fourth (2015, 2018), third (2014) and second (2017).
DeGrom, meanwhile, has pitched six seasons at the MLB level, winning 66 of his 171 starts while posting a cumulative 2.62 ERA/1.053 WHIP/2.78 FIP.
Either one is an elite choice, but both slipped in the draft. Sale went No. 13 overall, while deGrom fell all the way to Round 9, where the Mets snagged him.
Just looking at these options — and ignoring some other potential candidates in players such as Andrelton Simmons, Yasmani Grandal and J.T. Realmuto, who were either later-round picks (Simmons in Round 2, Realmuto in Round 3) or just outside the upper-elite level of Machado/Yelich (Grandal) and thus weren't realistic contenders at No.2 — it's clear the Pirates had some options besides Taillon. Good as Taillon has been — and unfortunately, we may never know how much better it could've gotten — you can't ignore the other names sitting there.
I'm immediately eliminating deGrom from the conversation for this reason: He just wasn't a No. 2 overall pick at the time. He played shortstop at Stetson until his junior year, when he was converted to a pitcher and began to realize his potential. Maybe in a perfect world, yeah, the Pirates see into the future and select deGrom, adding an NL Cy Young to lead their rotation. But this was never a realistic choice that high in the draft in 2010. Even in a hypothetical re-draft, that's just too far for me.
That leaves us with Machado, Yelich and Sale.
My brain immediately leaps to Yelich, as he's not only an MVP-level player, but he's still getting better. Machado came out of the gates strong — and has been consistently great, no doubt — but he was inefficient last year after cashing out, slashing .256/.334/.462.
Sale, while initially a third-place pick for me behind the other two, makes a strong case too, as he's not only been a consistent winner and an elite arm, but he did work from the jump, making his debut in 2010 and never slowing. Sale did undergo Tommy John surgery in March of 2020, but we're talking 10 years of production and seven All-Star teams before that happened. You'll take that all day.
Here's where it gets crazy: Yelich is eliminated next.
Yelich, remarkable as he's been with the Brewers, wasn't that with the Marlins. He showed immense promise and was absolutely a talented, standout player there, but he was not the Yelich we know today. Did it just take him five years at the MLB level to warm up? Was it something about Milwaukee's coaching/development that unlocked his full potential?
We don't know for sure, but there's enough of a question mark there for me to hesitate just a touch, wondering if Yelich would've been the same in the Pirates' system.
SO, MACHADO OR SALE
Both players contributed quickly once reaching the bigs, and both players have shown consistency throughout their careers, too. Sale is a lefty, too, something the Pirates have needed in their rotation.
But Machado, a shortstop/third baseman, also fills a need. And he, too, showed immediate promise, getting his feet wet in 2012 before making the All-Star team and coming in ninth in the AL MVP voting as a 20-year-old player in 2013.
After flipping a coin ... then flipping it again and again, the pick is in:
Machado is a can't-miss talent, simultaneously a safe pick thanks to his elite defense and a game-changing, high-upside pick when factoring in his work at the plate. The Pirates could not have gone wrong here.
But the final tipping point in selecting Machado over Sale is this: If we're going full re-draft, simulation mode, let's consider what the Pirates did throughout history. Who helps the club get over the hump during those playoff-bound 2013-15 stretches more? Both Sale and Machado were All-Stars by this point, but it's Machado's 35-home run season in 2015, alongside his two Gold Gloves during that stretch that tips the scales.
The team could've used Machado more than Sale — but you can't go wrong either way.
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