Jameson Taillon Trade: Scouting Reports On All Four Yankees Prospects Headed To Pittsburgh
On Sunday, the Yankees swung a deal with the Pirates to acquire righthander Jameson Taillon for four prospects: righthanders Miguel Yajure and Roansy Conteras, outfielder Canaan Smith and shortstop Maikol Escotto.
The move accomplishes two things: One, it clears roster space to add Taillon, as well as one of infielder DJ LeMahieu and righthander Corey Kluber, who both agreed to deals with New York earlier in the month but couldn’t be added because of lack of space on the 40-man roster. Two, it gives the Yankees rotation a potential upgrade in what was, outside of Gerrit Cole, full of volatility.
From Pittsburgh’s perspective, the trade continues the team’s process of tearing down and rebuilding. This offseason, the team has already dealt first baseman Josh Bell to the Nationals and righthander Joe Musgrove to the Padres in exchange for several prospects to add to their rapidly improving system.
The package they acquired from the Yankees in particular gives the Pirates a major league-ready pitcher in Yajure, a promising hitter who should be ready for upper levels in Smith and a pair of long-term pieces in Contreras and Escotto.
Jameson Taillon, RHP
Taillon was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 draft, sandwiched between a pair of generational talents in Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. While Taillon has shown flashes of excellence, he’s struggled to stay healthy, and his injuries include a pair of Tommy John surgeries and another operation to repair an inguinal hernia.
His most recent Tommy John happened in Aug. 2019, and he missed the 2020 season recovering. His best season came in 2018, when he went 14-10, 3.20 with 179 strikeouts in 191 innings. He made just seven starts in 2019 before the elbow gave out again in May. The injury was originally reported as a flexor strain but later required surgery.
Taillon operates with five pitches: A four-seamer and a sinker that each average the mid-90s, a low-80s curveball, a high-80s slider and a seldom-thrown high-80s changeup. While he did not qualify for the leaderboard, Taillon had a 11.8% swinging-strike rate in 2019. That mark would have placed him just behind Musgrove forNo. 22 in baseball. If healthy, he has the stuff to emerge as the Yankees No. 2 starter behind Cole or No. 3 behind Cole and Kluber, provided Kluber also stays healthy and returns to prime form.
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Miguel Yajure, RHP
The Yankees signed Yajure out of Venezuela for $30,000 in 2015 on the strength of two innings at a tryout. He missed the 2017 season after having Tommy John surgery, returned in 2018 and broke out in 2019 as he jumped to Double-A. Yajure added velocity after the 2019 season through a weighted-ball program and a series of delivery tweaks designed to better incorporate his lower half. The result was a nearly 2 mph jump in his average velocity, up to 92 mph in his major league debut in 2020.
Yajure complements his four-seamer with a cutter, slider, a low-80s curveball and high-80s changeup. He’s comfortable throwing his changeup to both sides. His curveball is a 12-to-6 breaker that he uses to form a tunnel with his four-seamer. His cutters and slider are newer weapons and were incorporated to help him better combat righthanders.
Yajure made his big league debut on Aug. 31 and pitched seven innings over three outings. He should slot into Pittsburgh's rotation and has a chance to settle in as a back-to-mid-rotation starter.
Roansy Contreras, RHP
Contreras was one of many players in the minor leagues for whom 2020 was essentially a lost season. He was not invited to the Yankees’ alternate training site, and his addition to the 40-man roster meant he was not allowed to participate in the team’s instructional league program in the Dominican Republic.
In 2019, he was part of a talented group of pitchers—along with righties Luis Medina, Alexander Vizcaino, Luis Gil and Matt Sauer—who started the year at Low-A Charleston. Of that group, Contreras has the lowest ceiling but highest floor.
He showed a small uptick in his fastball velocity at 2020 spring training before the shutdown and began touching 95 mph. His next step is to improve the shape of his breaking ball. Currently, the pitch behaves somewhat like a slurve; the Yankees wanted to get it to act more like a slider. Contreras’ changeup is his best pitch because of its fade and drop and was effective against both righthanded and lefthanded hitters.
Contreras will likely begin 2021 at High-A. How his breaking ball develops will determine if he reaches his starter potential.
Canaan Smith, OF
After a rough go in the short-season New York-Penn League in 2018, Smith was excellent in 2019 at Low-A Charleston. He was one of just 15 players in the minor leagues with 30 or more doubles, 10 or more home runs and 15 or more stolen bases.
In terms of hard contact, Smith was one of the best in the Yankees’ system. He averaged an 89.4 mph exit velocity in 2019 and reached as high as 110 mph. He has a solid idea of the strike zone and posted a swinging-strike rate of just 9.7%. Scouts were somewhat concerned about how he’d handle upper-level pitching, but didn’t get to answer those questions because of the wiped out minor league season in 2020.
Smith a below-average defender in left field and has a fringe-average throwing arm. He’s an average runner but shows excellent instincts on the basepaths. If he continues his progression with the bat, he has a chance to settle in as an everyday left fielder.
Maikol Escotto, SS
Escotto was outstanding in his debut season in the Dominican Summer League in 2019. He shows impressive instincts and athleticism for his age and has shown the ability to handle both velocity and offspeed pitches. He has smooth footwork and soft hands on the infield and has plus arm strength, having touched 93 mph on throws across the diamond. Escotto’s .981 OPS was eighth in the DSL in 2019, and he hit 12 home runs between there and extended spring training and has reached exit velocities as high as 106 mph. He will make his stateside debut in 2021 and gives the Pirates system an intriguing middle infielder.