High schooler Taillon has mix on the mound
Youngster has four pitches, has been clocked in upper-90s
In today's age of 365/24/7 -- that's 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, seven days a week -- amateur baseball, it's not uncommon for a young player, especially in high school, to come out of the Draft and not have a real sense of the world around him.
Sure, there's the summer showcase circuit and, for some, the ability to travel a bit with Team USA. But the primary focus is always the game, and while that produces more advanced prep talent than what used to come out annually, it's easy to wonder if the baseball blinders are detrimental when it comes to being prepared for the next level. Is it possible that so narrow a focus makes it more likely that everything that gets thrown at a professional athlete can become overwhelming?
That's one thing teams will not have to worry about when they consider Texas high school pitcher Jameson Taillon. The right-hander some think could be the No. 1 overall pick in this June's Draft is not all baseball, all the time. His dedication to academics is apparent with his choice of Rice University for a college commitment. His three siblings have gone on to a PhD program, medical school and law school. His passport has been stamped all over Europe and Canada.
This week's Draft Reports
|Kyle Blair||San Diego|
|Gary Brown||Cal State Fullerton|
|Christian Colon||Cal State Fullerton|
|Deck McGuire||Georgia Tech|
|Sammy Solis||San Diego|
|Jordan Swagerty||Arizona State|
|Jameson Taillon||The Woodlands HS|
|Karsten Whitson||Chipley HS|
"That's really important," said Taillon, a senior at The Woodlands High School. "With pitchers' arms, you never know what can happen. It's nice to have academics and know what the world has to offer, to see the world."
The baseball world is about to see what Taillon (pronounced Tie-yon; his father is French Canadian) has to offer on the mound. Let's be honest: A high schooler who is smart and has traveled and plays a little baseball is nice, but when that player throws in the upper-90s, has two plus breaking balls and is 6-foot-7, it makes for a much better story.
"When you put those together, it's pretty special," said Ron Eastman, who is in his 10th season at the helm of The Woodlands' baseball program. "He's a pretty special young man. We knew that coming in. He's a hard thrower and a great kid. He's continued to grow and mature, not just as a player."
Taillon the player started coming into his own last year and took off last summer as he made the showcase circuit tour and played for Team USA in the fall. He threw two innings, striking out four, in the AFLAC All-American Game at PETCO Park. He was the Team One MVP in the Under Armour All-America Game at Wrigley Field when he struck out the side in the first inning. He received the first USA Baseball International Performance of the Year Award for beating Cuba (and striking out 16 over 7 2/3 IP) in the gold medal game during the COPABE Pan American Championships. All of that, with the attention that comes along with it, has really prepared Taillon for the increased spotlight that invariably comes along with Draft season.
"When I went to the Perfect Game Nationals in Minneapolis, I was nervous for that," Taillon admitted. "From that point on, it never really fazed me. At Wrigley, PETCO, I just tried to go out and have fun, to take advantage of [the opportunity] and not pay attention to that other stuff.
"You definitely get an adrenaline rush. I've been eased into it by playing with who I've played with at the summer showcases, getting used to the guns going up every time I lifted my leg."
Taillon, known simply as "Jamo" to teammates and friends, worked out in the Houston area during the offseason in the same center used by Major Leaguers such as James Loney, Adam Dunn and Chad Qualls. And as good as his stuff is, it's that work ethic that separates him from other talented arms. If anything, Eastman and his staff have to make sure he doesn't go too overboard in his diligence.
"He does a ton of work on his own away from here," Eastman said. "We have to be careful to make sure he doesn't overdo it. We try to work along with that to make sure he's ready to go. It's a nice problem to have."
Eastman and his staff are also able to help Taillon deal with all of the Draft-related pressures, because they've been through it before. Back in 2006, The Woodlands' ace was Kyle Drabek, who ended up going No. 18 overall to the Philadelphia Phillies. They are much different as people, but they have similar goals which helped Drabek, and should help Taillon, stay focused as things heat up.
"Though he's a different personality, they have the same approach," said Eastman, who has other players who have Draft potential as well this year. "Jameson's goals were to pitch in AFLAC and pitch for Team USA. His third goal is to win a state championship and he's pretty focused on that. In 2006, we were concerned with the teammates. Kyle handled, and now Jameson handles, that pressure from the scouts [that can affect the entire team] really well. His attitude has a calming effect on his teammates as well."
Eastman hopes the lessons he's learned from 2006 will help keep Taillon and his teammates calm as well. He's already been much more open than he was four years ago. With Drabek, they were initially reluctant to let everyone know when and where Drabek was pitching, though eventually they embraced that. Now with Jameson, everyone has an idea of what to expect and it should make it easier to manage in the long run.
"Hopefully the way I handle it, I don't make a big deal out of it," Eastman said. "I know it's there, face it and handle it. We knew it was going to be a circus, and hopefully we prepared the kids for it.
"We've told Jameson, 'This is it, it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Enjoy it, embrace the moment.' So far, he's managed to do that."
And he's managed to pitch exceptionally well, all while finding time to pick up a new hobby, playing acoustic guitar. It's an activity that's best performed with nuance, something that seems to fit Taillon's personality perfectly. He would, after all, garner plenty of attention on the mound just by the way he lights up the radar gun. But that's not enough. He doesn't just want to strum on the mound, he wants to be a true artist.
"The thing I take pride in is having that stuff and being able to pitch with it," Taillon said. "You can't just rely on a fastball here. You have to mix it up. You have to have the velocity to impress scouts, but mixing in the other stuff is important."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.