07/08/12 7:32 PM ET
Cole, Taillon reunite at Futures Game
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
Stud pitching prospects Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole, standing side by side, fielding steady media requests, organizing their equipment in adjacent lockers in a Major League clubhouse.
Consider Sunday a dress rehearsal.
Cole, the top pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, and Taillon, the No. 2 overall selection in 2010, interrupted their ascensions to Pittsburgh by appearing on a national stage Sunday. Teammates at the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game, Cole and Taillon -- the top two prospects in the Pirates' system as ranked by MLB.com -- were showcased as the gems of the organization's last two Draft classes.
Cole appeared in the second inning and recorded two quick outs, the first a swinging strikeout on a 99-mph pitch. He walked one and allowed a homer to Cubs prospect Jae-Hoon Ha before ending his appearance with another strikeout. He reached 100 mph on the radar gun.
Taillon allowed one run and a pair of doubles in the sixth, his only inning of work. He threw several fastballs that clocked in at 98 mph.
The two right-handers represent a combined $14.5 million investment by Pittsburgh, though both seem to have willingly embraced the pressures and expectations that come with that. And they, too, have already begun to dream about what it will be like when they constitute two-fifths of the Pirates' rotation.
"There will be times when we are watching a Pirates game and think that a couple years down the road that could be us up there," Taillon said. "It's something that we don't talk about that much, but we definitely envision it."
They share not just dreams, but also the burden that comes with shouldering the first-rounder label. Over the past few months, they've also shared something else: advice.
It was natural that the two became warmup partners during Spring Training, once Cole joined Taillon in Minor League camp. A few days in, Cole approached Taillon with a suggestion.
He told Taillon to step back 20 more feet -- from 50 to 70 -- when throwing his changeup during morning long-toss sessions. Cole then instructed Taillon to throw his changeup as hard as he could, like he would a fastball, without worry about it bouncing or hitting someone.
"That," Cole told him, "is how you're going to get comfortable doing it."
Taillon agreed to make the change and, once he did, found that he was finally able to lock in at an ideal arm speed. A pitch that he considered good enough in high school is now one of his most relied upon. Taillon says he throws about 15-20 per start.
As for Cole, he took to suggestions that Taillon made about routine.
"We're pretty good friends," Cole said. "We go back and forth a lot on pitching. It was nice to play with him down in [high-A] Bradenton and hopefully he'll be with me in [Double-A] Altoona soon."
The two were teammates for the first time in April, when both were assigned to high-A. Cole, 22, has since moved up a level. All along, Cole expected to make the quicker climb, given that he was drafted out of college.
That said, Taillon, 21, might not be far behind. The Pirates have not ruled out having him end the season in Altoona.
"Their development is important to the organization because both guys have a chance to be impact pitchers -- and impact players are the separators for a championship organization and pitching wins championships," assistant general manager Kyle Stark said. "We obviously need more than these two guys, but they certainly could be important contributors to what we're doing."
Cole wrapped up a 13-start stay in high-A with a 5-1 record and 2.55 ERA. He struck out 69 and walked 21 in 67 innings pitched. He has made three Double-A starts since the promotion, though he had to exit one prematurely after being struck by a line drive.
Cole has given up six earned runs in his first 11 2/3 innings at the Double-A level.
"In high-A, it was more about mechanics and execution," Cole said. "In Double-A, it's more of a chess match. As long as I'm myself and I can take care of what I can take care of, it's the same game."
Taillon, who is 5-6 with a 4.05 ERA in 16 starts with Bradenton, has been challenged to mix pitches better this year. He has also lost the reins of a strict pitch count. While his workload is still closely monitored, the fact that Taillon extended himself through 92 2/3 innings last year gives him the freedom to pitch deeper into starts this season.
"At the end of the day, you go back down to the Minor Leagues and you're another guy," said Taillon, downplaying his status. "I've loved it. It's a challenge to get better every day. The Minor Leagues are kind of a funny thing. I've embraced it. It's been two good years, and I've come a long way as a pitcher."
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Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.