Taillon mindful of avoiding sophomore slump

Pirates righty has shown a work ethic and maturity beyond his years

Taillon mindful of avoiding sophomore slump

BRADENTON, Fla. -- When Jameson Taillon walked into manager Clint Hurdle's office for his exit interview last season, he heard the warning: The sophomore slump is real.

General manager Neal Huntington has often mentioned the second-year slide many players encounter. Typically, Huntington says, it comes about one of two ways. Some players, having come so far to reach the Majors and succeed at a high level, think they've finally arrived and let down their guard. The others, working to stay a step ahead of the league, try so hard to improve that they get away from what made them successful in the first place.

Taillon is already mindful of avoiding the second sophomore slip-up. But the Pirates don't have to worry about Taillon getting too comfortable. Throughout his Minor League career, Tommy John rehabilitation and Major League debut, he showed a work ethic and maturity beyond his years.

"I'll never get lazy and complacent. I just need to be careful of trying to mix my recipe up and trying to do too much," he said. "I need to go out there, keep my head down and do what I did last year."

Taillon pounded the strike zone as a rookie and emerged as arguably the Pirates' most consistent starter last season. He posted a 3.38 ERA in 104 innings over 18 starts, striking out 85 and walking only 17. Taillon, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 Draft, proved the two seasons he spent rehabbing were not "lost years" and delivered on the hype he built up as a prospect.

"He's mature beyond his age. He's got a real good idea of what he wants to do out there," pitching coach Ray Searage said. "He still has some bumps to get over, and that comes with trying to improve a pitch as opposed to believing in a pitch, and sometimes he'll do that. I like Jamo and what he brings to the table."

When Taillon returned home to Houston after the season, he finally took a moment to appreciate the year he had. Then he was back to work. Taillon has been training at the Fairchild Sports Performance facility, where Mark Melancon and Nick Kingham also work out. He traveled to Pirate City this week to take part in the Pirates' annual mini-camp.

Huntington and Hurdle often caution that the league will "punch back" against players' initial success, studying scouting reports to exploit a weakness. Taillon experienced that last season, watching as hitters tweaked their approach from start to start and adjusting his game plan accordingly.

"I like studying the game. I like that aspect of it," Taillon said. "I like the chess-game part, so I'm not too worried about that."

The Pirates are counting on Taillon to help anchor their pitching staff this year. Gerrit Cole will return atop the rotation, and Ivan Nova's return will provide valuable experience and innings. A year after beginning the season in Triple-A, Taillon is projected to be the Pirates' No. 2 starter.

Taillon says he's not too worried about that, either.

"There was the vibe that if I could contribute anything last year, that's a plus. I expected to contribute last year. That was my goal. I wanted to be a part of it," Taillon said. "I already felt a little bit of the pressure. I liked being in the situation I was in. I like being up there. I like pitching for these guys.

"If I can help, that's great. I don't need to put any extra pressure on myself to lead a rotation or anything."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.