Top prospect Jameson Taillon is going to miss the season with Tommy John surgery? If you wanted to see the latest Pirates prodigy pumping mid-90s gas and big-breaking benders in the big leagues, you're going to have to wait another season.
Considering there was little to no concern about Taillon's workload and he’d been handled as carefully as any top prospect should be, this automatically becomes another suggestion that some guys are just going to get hurt. But more important, it’s extremely disappointing news, because we’re greedy when we start talking about a young pitcher this good. Whether you’re a Pirates fan or just a fan of the game, you want to see him, because we all want to see him pitch the way he can.
On the other hand, will this hurt the Pirates that badly in terms of the 2014 season? Over the course of a full 162-game campaign, maybe it won't. The Pirates still have depth to cover their rotation needs for the full season. A front four of Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Wandy Rodriguez and Charlie Morton is a quartet you can win with -- if everyone stays healthy, which is no sure thing.
They also have two live science projects to choose from for their fifth slot. Right now, they have the task of building journeyman Edinson Volquez back up to what he was, as Jerry Crasnick covered in detail. Perhaps later, they’ll see if they can bring Jeff Locke back -- once he’s healed up from his strained oblique -- to the form that got the defense-dependent lefty into last year’s All-Star Game. If both of them pan out, the Pirates would be ready to endure an injury among their front four. And they have swingman Jeanmar Gomez to turn to before having to reach from Triple-A for a solid organizational guy like Brandon Cumpton. So they have the depth to be able to compete and perhaps contend with.
And keep in mind that in terms of the full scope of Taillon’s career, this may also perhaps not dent their long-term outlook that much. Assuming that Taillon is one of the 75 percent or so of guys who recover fully from the surgery, he’s going to be a big part of their 2015 rotation at some point, the same as was already expected before injury struck.
However, the problem with losing Taillon now is multifold. A great young pitcher just experienced the first major stumbling block of his career. Here’s hoping he can roll with it, recover fully, and work with the Pirates to deliver on the promise that has so many fans ready to watch him in the majors. And there’s that element of anticipation that’s always associated with a young prospect, now thwarted.
But the bigger problem by far is losing the stuff that fuels that anticipation about Taillon’s future. As Cole showed last October -- as did Michael Wacha for the Cardinals and Sonny Gray for the Athletics -- you want to be able to turn to a guy with the stuff to overpower a postseason lineup. Any postseason lineup. Guys like Morton or Rodriguez are great assets to have over a full six months, but are they the guys you want on the mound in a must-win postseason game? To advance deeper into October? It’s possible, but you'd rather have the outcome depend on someone with Taillon’s talent, someone with an arm so able he can take complete control of a low-scoring game. Say Liriano gets hurt or Volquez doesn't become their latest resurrection. Who starts a crucial third or fourth game in an League Division Series? Who starts twice in an LCS?
Assuming the Pirates make it back into the postseason, that’s when losing Taillon might hurt most, when they won’t have the freedom to choose one of their best arms to exploit a championship opportunity. And if anyone knows how rare those opportunities can be, it’s Pirates fans, who just recently saw their team’s two-decade run of futility end.
Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.