Pittsburgh Pirates: Grading The Jameson Taillon Trade

Mar 28, 2019; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Jameson Taillon (50) throws against the Cincinnati Reds in the fifth inning at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 28, 2019; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Jameson Taillon (50) throws against the Cincinnati Reds in the fifth inning at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

The Pittsburgh Pirates just traded right-handed starter Jameson Taillon to the New York Yankees. So how did the Bucs do in the return?

Sunday afternoon the Pittsburgh Pirates made their third big trade of the off-eason. Just days after trading Joe Musgrove, the Pirates struck a deal with the New York Yankees to send right-handed starting pitcher Jameson Taillon to New York in exchange for four prospects.

These four prospects are Miguel Yajure, Roansy Contreras, Maikol Escotto and Canaan Smith. So how did the Pittsburgh Pirates do in the trade?

Taillon is coming off his second Tommy John surgery which he underwent late in the 2019 season. Unless there is a surprise setback, Taillon will return to the Majors in 2021. The last time Taillon got a good look in the bigs was 2018. During his breakout campaign, Taillon pitched to the tune of a3.20 ERA, 3.46 FIP and 1.18 WHIP in 191 innings.

Taillon had a solid 0.94 HR/9 rate and 5.9% walk rate. While his strikeout rate wasn’t through the roof at just 22.8%, he still had a strong 3.89 K/BB ratio. Taillon posted an above average 87.8 MPH exit velocity and 31.9% hard hit rate, which paired well with his 46.2% ground ball rate. To go with that, Taillon had a 3.58 xFIP, 3.77 SIERA, 3.53 xERA and 3.41 DRA.

Overall, his 3.9 fWAR ranked 19th among the 74 starting pitchers with at least 150 innings pitched during the year. Taillon did pitch some in 2019, but 37.1 innings before being placed on the injured list and eventually having to undergo the dreaded surgery. Taillon spent all of 2020 rehabbing as well. Taillon is a free agent following the 2022 season and is only being paid $2.25 million for 2021.

The headliner of this deal going to Pittsburgh is right-handed pitcher Miguel Yajure. The 22-year-old made his MLB debut in 2020 and pitched 7.0 solid innings, but barely has any playing time above Double-A.

Yajure logged a decent amount of innings in 2019 between High-A and Double-A. Through 138.2 innings of work, the right-hander put up an outstanding 2.14 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 2.51 FIP. Yajure allowed just five home runs and walked just 5.4% of the batters he faced. He had a 23.9% strikeout rate, but could see that continue to rise. Yajure only struck out 15.3% of the batters he faced back in 2015 as a 17-year-old and has seen his strikeout rate rise every level he has been promoted to, including his brief MLB stint where he had a 27.6% rate.

The young right-hander works with five pitches including a fastball, change up (both with a 55-future grade), cutter (60-future grade) and curveball (50-future grade). He averaged about 91-95 MPH with his fastball that also had roughly average spin (2250 RPM). However, his primary breaking pitch averaged about 2600 RPM. Yajure was ranked as the Yanks’ 15th best prospect by MLB Pipeline, but ended 2020 as their 11th best prospect per FanGraphs. Many see Yajure as a player who could have a 50 future value grade very soon. While he is a Tommy John recipient like Taillon, he’s yet to struggle at any level he’s been put at.

The next prospect they got was another pitcher, 21-year-old Roansy Contreras. Contreras last pitched with the Yankees’ High-A team where he had a solid 3.33 ERA, 3.67 FIP and 1.06 WHIP in 132.1 innings pitched. He only had a 21.1% strikeout rate, but a strong 6.7% walk rate and 0.68 HR/9.

The right-hander has three pitches to his disposal. This includes a fastball, slider and change up. Both his slider and change are seen as pitches with above average potential by FanGraphs as they have a 55-future grade. His fastball, which sits in the 92-95 MPH range, is seen as a third pitch with a 55-grade by FanGraphs. While he isn’t a flamethrower, he does put plenty of spin on his pitches averaging 2400 RPM with his fastball and 2500 RPM with his curve. Scouts believe Contreras will improve given his aptitude and competitiveness, according to MLB Pipeline.

The next piece the Pittsburgh Pirates received was infielder Maikol Escotto. Escotto, who turns 19 in June, put up fantastic numbers with the Yankees’ Dominican Summer League affiliate. In 218 plate appearances, Escotto put up a .315/.326/.552 line with 8 home runs, a .465 wOBA and 167 wRC+. While he did strike out 26.1% of the time, that isn’t rare for a player as young as Escotto and he still managed a strong walk rate of 14.7%. He also displayed a power/speed combo with a .238 isolated slugging percentage while swiping 13 bases in 16 attempts.

Escotto saw time, mainly at second base, but also some innings at third base and shortstop. He’s considered a player who could be an average fielder with a future fielding grade of 50 but with a strong arm that grades out as a 60-grade tool. He also has good power with future grades of 55 for his game power and 60 for his raw power. After all, he averaged 89 MPH off the bat during his age-17 season. His hit tool is seen as a future 45-grade tool and as he fills out, he’ll lose some speed. However, scouts see a lot of upside in Escotto who has plenty of potential.

The final piece of the puzzle was Canaan Smith. The left-handed hitting outfielder last played at High-A with Contreras. Smith put up great numbers there with a .307/.405/.465 line, 11 long balls, 32 doubles, a .398 wOBA and 154 wRC+ in 528 plate appearances. Smith struck out just 20.5% of the time during his age 20-season while posting an outstanding walk rate of 14%.

Smith has identical power grades to Escotto with a 55-future game power grade and 60-future raw power grade. He also has a 45-future hit tool. However, his ability to draw walks and avoid striking out a whole lot could make his hit tool become better. Smith will likely stay in left field. He is only seen as a 40-grade runner by FanGraphs with 45 grades for both his fielding and arm.

Now, yes, Taillon may have been able to add more value if he got off to a hot start to 2021, but how much more value does only 2-3 months of good performance add? Taillon is coming off his second Tommy John surgery and hasn’t pitched a meaningful amount of innings since 2018, which is definitely something to consider.

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All four of the prospects the Pittsburgh Pirates got back were considered top 21 prospects by FanGraphs and three were considered top 21 by MLB Pipeline. Some may say it’s a quantity over quality type deal, but the quantity is four high ranked prospects, many of which have gotten rave reviews by evaluators.

While the Pittsburgh Pirates may have been able to get a little bit more by letting Taillon build some value through the first few months of the season, this is a good return for a two-time Tommy John recipient who has pitched less than 50 innings in the past 2 seasons and has just 2 years of control remaining.

Grade: A-