If you watched Sunday's U.S.-Canada game you saw 21-year-old Pirates right-hander Jameson Taillon throw four impressive innings for Canada, allowing four hits and one walk while striking out three. He showcased his mid-90s fastball and struck out Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Braun and Shane Victorino on curveballs, getting Braun looking on a beautiful 3-2 bender. (Taillon is from Texas, but both his parents are Canadian.)
During the game, I had a couple readers insist Taillon is better right now than U.S. starter Derek Holland. I don't know about that. Taillon has pitched just three games above Class A while Holland has a 4.29 ERA over the past two seasons pitching in one of the best hitter's parks in the majors. Taillon had a 3.82 ERA in the Florida State League and Holland had a better strikeout/walk ratio pitching in the American League than Taillon did pitching for Bradenton.
That doesn't mean Taillon doesn't have the potential to be better than Holland. Keith Law ranked him No. 20 on his top 100 prospects list, writing "Taillon has top-of-the-rotation stuff, not that far behind teammate Gerrit Cole's arsenal, but doesn't miss as many bats as you'd expect given what comes out of his arm and may be more of a 1A to Cole's 1 when it's all said and done." Other lists were in line with Keith's: Baseball America ranked Taillon 19th and MLB.com ranked him 15th.
During the broadcast, the announcers compared Taillon to Josh Beckett -- both are big right-handers from Texas, both were drafted second overall. (No high school right-hander has ever been drafted No. 1, and the last one drafted second before Beckett in 1999 was Bill Gullickson in 1977.) In fact, the Pirates had Taillon rated ahead of Bryce Harper on their draft board in 2010. I don't think the announcers were necessarily comparing ability, although Taillon's ability is certainly high, but the similarity in backgrounds.
Let's be clear: Taillon is not Beckett, at least not yet. When Beckett pitched in the Florida State League, he was a year older than Taillon (actually, six months older, but a year older in seasonal age) and absolutely dominant. In 12 starts, he went 6-0 with a 1.32 ERA, 32 hits in 65.2 innings, 101 strikeouts and just 15 walks. Moved up to Double-A, Beckett had a 109/19 strikeout/walk ratio in 74.1 innings. He even made four starts for the Marlins, tossing up a 1.50 ERA in 24 innings. That's why Beckett was the No. 1 prospect in baseball heading into the 2002 season.
Look, Taillon has some special talent. But don't let prospect hype run amok here and suggest this kid is going to be as good as Beckett. Maybe he will. Maybe he'll be better (for the Pirates' sake, I hope so). The numbers suggest he still needs to improve before we can project him as a No. 1 or No. 2 starter in the majors. We certainly saw a glimpse of his upside on Sunday, but let him dominate in the minors before we make him the next Josh Beckett ... or even the next Derek Holland.