MLBPipeline.com: First and foremost, how are you feeling physically this spring?
Taillon: I'm feeling really good. I'm not on a restricted program. Last year when I finished instructs, I was worried that I'd come in this year and be on a training-room program, but there hasn't been any of that. I pitched in our first intrasquad game down here and have been rocking out starts and building arm strength since then. I think I'm probably ahead of where most guys are. So as far as that goes, I'm stoked. The body is healthy and I'm responding well to it.
MLBPipeline.com: After missing back-to-back seasons due to Tommy John surgery (2014) and then hernia surgery (2015), how have you been able to stay mentally tough, especially when your career was cruising along up to that point?
Taillon: I made it up to Triple-A in 2013 and came into Spring Training the following year really optimistic, thinking that if things go my way and I do well, then I'd have a chance to help Pittsburgh. But I ended up reporting to camp and never left. I spent all of 2014 rehabbing here and thought that I could maybe help the club last season if I knocked out my rehab, but right when I started to feel really good again, I came down with the hernia. What's really helped me is always having something to look forward to. With both injuries, my mindset was "I can't wait to throw," then "I can't wait to get on the mound," and "I can't wait to face hitters." Basically I always focused on the next thing.
MLBPipeline.com: How has your stuff been so far this spring? And what are you working on specifically ahead of the 2016 season?
Taillon: The stuff itself has been very good. Fastball velocity has been 93-96 mph, right where I was back before everything happened, and the curveball has been really sharp. I think it's definitely gotten better, and it's been easier to throw for a strike. My changeup has been good, too, and I've been throwing it a lot. The biggest things I'm focusing on right now are controlling the running game, mixing up my looks and varying my times to the plate, which I never really got to work on while rehabbing. You're not going to hear me use the two years off as an excuse, and I don't want it to be, but the reality of it is that during rehab I was focusing on my mechanics and executing a pitch, not worrying about a fast runner on first base or mixing my pitches.
MLBPipeline.com: You were right behind Cole on the depth chart for most of your pro career up until your elbow injury in 2014. What has it been like watching him enjoy success in the big leagues and develop into an ace-caliber pitcher for the Pirates?
Taillon: Seeing Gerrit go up there and perform as he has helps in a couple ways. We're friends first, so it's good to have someone to talk to about what to expect in the big leagues, but we also talk about the little things, like what to pack. Secondly, it gives you faith in our player-development process here -- it let me know that we're doing something right here on the Minor League side to get guys ready. So when Gerrit got called up, we all knew he was up there to stay. Lastly, I admire watching him pitch. It's just fun to watch him throw.
MLBPipeline.com: You played on a legendary 18U USA Baseball team with Bryce Harper and Manny Machado before going second overall in the 2010 Draft, sandwiched between both players. Have you considered that this likely will be the year that you finally face both of them in the big leagues?
Taillon: That lineup was crazy. I think it was Harper hitting in the three-hole, Machado hitting cleanup, Nick Castellanos in the five-hole, with me and Kevin Gausman in the rotation. I felt like I fit right in; we were all ballers back then and won a gold medal for the U.S. They've obviously gone on to have great careers, and I'm happy for them, but I also don't think I should be forgotten about. I'm looking forward to getting up there and hopefully doing the same stuff.