Machado or Taillon? How much risk is too much risk?

Today’s gamethread and the eventual recap are below this post. The draft comes first on draft day.

For a team in the Pirates’ position, there’s nothing as important as the draft. There’s no better way to add talent than to draft well every year and there’s always a lot of talent available at the top of the first round. This year like last year will almost certainly see the best talent available by a wide margin go to Washington with the number one pick, but with the second pick the Pirates have a choice between the second and third most talented prospects in the draft, high school shortstop Manny Machado and high school pitcher Jameson Taillon.

If you caught Kevin Goldstein’s interview with Rocco DeMaro after Saturday’s game (available here), Goldstein nicely crystalized most of the things I’ve read about Machado and Taillon. Taillon is the second most talented player available in the draft by a pretty decent amount and as high school pitchers go, he’s viewed as a pretty special talent because of his size (6’7″), his velocity (he sits at 94-95 and can touch the upper 90s), and the fact that he throws four pitches, which includes a nasty curve that might be better than his fastball. If Harper is clearly first in terms of talent and Taillon is clearly second, Machado is clearly third and there’s a big dip between Machado and the pack. Machado has a quick bat and good size that means he could hit for average and power down the road, though he’s big enough that he may grow out of shortstop, especially because he doesn’t have exceptional speed.

If everything were equal, Taillon would be the obvious choice here. But everything’s not equal. The Pirates are going to throw a lot of money at this pick. Probably in the neighborhood of Pedro Alvarez money when it’s all said and done. The Pittsburgh Pirates can’t afford to drop $6 million on a draft pick and have it not pan out. They have to get value out of every cent they spend because they just don’t have as much money to spend on some teams. High school pitchers come with more risk than high school position players. There are just more things that can go wrong in the development process for pitchers, even for a highly regarded guy like Taillon, and so the risk is much higher that your $6 million check won’t bring $6 million in long-term performance in return.

It’s an impossible situation. On one hand, the Pirates need as much talent as they can get their hands on, and that’s Taillon. On the other hand, they can’t afford to miss with the second pick in the draft and those chances are higher if they draft any pitcher at all. But nothing’s a sure thing in the draft. They could pick Machado and watch as his power never develops while Taillon hits the Majors around his 20th birthday, Porcello and Kershaw style, turning into an ace for the Orioles at a very young age. They could draft Taillon and watch his arm explode while Machado turns into Justin Upton for the Orioles. Those are extreme examples, of course, but anything’s possible here.

This is exactly how pitchers like Kershaw (seventh overall pick), Porcello (27th pick), or last year’s group of Jacob Turner (ninth, Tigers), Tyler Matzek (11th, Rockies), and Matt Purke (14th, Rangers) all fall out of the top five, despite having a ton of talent. Teams with more money or better rosters can afford the risk of paying a huge bonus to a pitcher that might not pan out. The Pirates have to consider it much more carefully.

At what point does the reward outweigh the risk with a pitcher like Taillon? That’s the question the Pirates have to answer today. At this point, I’ll be happy with whoever they take. Both players are talented and either one will immediately become one of the team’s best prospects. But I don’t at all envy the guys that have to make the decision between the two of them.

About Pat Lackey

In 2005, I started a WHYGAVS instead of working on organic chemistry homework. Many years later, I've written about baseball and the Pirates for a number of sites all across the internet, but WHYGAVS is still my home. I still haven't finished that O-Chem homework, though.