As recently as four years ago, the Pirates never had major-league-caliber players at the highest level of the minors. Not only were Bucs brass seemingly allergic to drafting good players, those who were exceptional were quickly carted off to the majors. They simply weren’t ready for that. Now the Pirates have capable players at all levels, waiting their turn and working on getting better at a more reasonable pace; that’s the way it’s supposed to work. The Indianapolis Indians have a number of talented players just waiting for a shot to play at PNC Park.
- Photo by Charlie Deitch
- Jameson Taillon
Jameson Taillon finally stopped carrying his own luggage when he was called up to The Show a few weeks ago. You can’t say Taillon’s name without mentioning the surgery that slowed down his progress. When Dr. Frank Jobe repaired former pitcher Tommy John’s ulnar collateral ligament in 1974, he had no idea people would still be referencing that surgery more than 40 years later. That procedure and a sports hernia kept Taillon from the bigs for two years. But finally, the second overall pick in the 2010 draft has arrived. He was drafted after Bryce Harper, of the Nationals, and before Manny Machado, of the Orioles; Mike Harvey, of the Mets; and Chris Sale, of the White Sox. Those four have all become big stars while Taillon is just a few games in. In fairness to the Pirates, the rest of that draft was about as successful as Matthew Perry’s post-Friends career. Now Taillon has carried a no-hitter deep into one of his first starts, and looks like he’ll stick around for awhile. With his swooping curve and nearly 100-mph fastball, it looks safe to go ahead and buy a Taillon jersey.
Also in Indianapolis is 22-year-old right-hander Tyler Glasnow. A little bit of a wild streak is keeping him in the minors for now. Glasnow recently strung together 13 consecutive no-hit innings over two starts. He allows fewer than two earned runs a game and continues to baffle AAA lineups. The reason he can’t crack the rotation is that the Pirates’ starting five is just that good. OK, that’s not the reason, but I wish it were. Gerrit Cole has been injured, Francisco Liriano is ineffective, and Jon Niese and Jeff Locke are maddeningly inconsistent. Again, had this been four years ago, Glasnow would have already pitched in the majors. He also might have taken some soul-crushing beatings, lost his confidence and been thrown onto the Pirates’ scrap pile of has-beens. Now he can wait until he’s ready.
Meanwhile, Josh Bell might be the answer the Pirates have been looking for since Jason Thompson left town during the Reagan administration. Thompson was the last first baseman to be an All-Star for the Pirates. First base has been a black hole of ineptitude and mediocrity since The A-Team was on the air. Josh Bell might end that 30-year slump. Standing in Bell’s way is a 32-year-old journeyman white guy with dreadlocks. It always is, right? John Jaso is playing just well enough to not lose his job. The switch-hitter with power will be here soon.
So far in 2016, the Pirates’ worst outfielder has been Andrew McCutchen. With Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco both playing well enough to merit All-Star talk, McCutchen might get that three days off this year. No need to hit the panic button; Cutch will be fine. In fact, the only guy in the system that might hope he doesn’t get back to normal is Austin Meadows. Meadows has arrived in Indianapolis, and there is no way to get into this current Pirates outfield. The 21-year-old Meadows is flying through the minors faster than McCutchen did. Sure, he started first grade in 2001, but now he’s only one step from the majors. Meadows might actually be the best of this bunch.
The Pirates are facing what is called “a good problem to have.” They are finally reaching the status of teams like the Cardinals, who have a player ready in the minors at every position. Taillon is here now. Glasnow and Bell will most likely be here later this year, and Meadows probably next year. It only took more than 20 years, but it looks to me that we might have a pretty good baseball organization here.