Joining win-now Yanks 'lit a fire under' Taillon

January 25th, 2021

’s first full day as a Yankee followed much of the usual grind of rehab from a second Tommy John surgery, counting down the days until pitchers and catchers pop gloves underneath palm trees. Yet the right-hander said he sensed a new level of excitement as he hit the gym on Monday. 

“Overnight, I went from a rebuilding organization to a team like the Yankees, where I’m stepping in and the only thing they care about is to win,” Taillon said. “That has kind of lit a fire under me, so I’m extremely excited to throw, excited to build up for Spring Training.”

The Yankees acquired the 29-year-old Taillon from the Pirates on Sunday in exchange for four prospects: right-handers Miguel Yajure and Roansy Contreras, infielder Maikol Escotto and outfielder Canaan Smith. Yajure was the Yankees’ No. 15 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. Contreras was rated No. 19, and Smith was No. 21.

General manager Brian Cashman believes that Taillon’s significant upside will prove to have been worth the gamble. Though Taillon has not pitched in a big league game since May 2019, he has used that time to revamp his lower-body mechanics in hopes of warding off future injuries.

“I'm focused on a hip-hinge movement, which gets your glutes involved,” Taillon said. “You hear as a kid, ‘Throw with your legs,’ so I had never been properly taught what that really meant. Now I’m activating my legs in a way that takes some pressure off my arm.”

Taillon said that he has thrown four bullpens in preparation for the beginning of camp, sitting between 92 and 95 mph with his fastball.

“As far as health goes, I’m feeling great. I’m ready to roll,” Taillon said. “All my bullpens have gone extremely well. Everything’s on schedule for me. I think I can contribute. I’ve put a lot of work into my rehab to put myself in a position to contribute to a team like the Yankees, so I’m confident that I’ll be ready to go.”

Taillon projects to slot behind Cole and right-hander Corey Kluber, who agreed to a one-year, $11 million contract that has yet to be formally announced. Cole and Taillon are friends dating to their time in the Pirates’ Minor League system, even sharing an apartment for several springs in Bradenton, Fla.

“Being roommates with Gerrit, the best way to explain it is, every night you get a five-star cooked meal,” Taillon said. “Even if he’s cooking for himself, he’s going to do everything with perfect execution. He’s going to have a perfect wine pairing for it. We had a lot of fun, a lot of great conversations.”

New York’s rotation also figures to include left-hander Jordan Montgomery, with a final spot up for grabs among a group that features right-handers Deivi García, Domingo Germán, Michael King, Nick Nelson and Clarke Schmidt.

The No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft between Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, Taillon has had to be patient in waiting for his opportunities on the big league stage. He first underwent elbow surgery in 2014, when he was on the brink of joining Gerrit Cole in the Pirates’ rotation. Taillon debuted in 2016 and posted a 3.38 ERA in 18 starts.

Taillon’s 2017 season was interrupted by a battle against testicular cancer. He persevered, returning to the mound five weeks after surgery to throw five scoreless innings. Taillon’s best season to date was 2018, when he finished 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA, along with a 1.18 WHIP and 179 strikeouts in 191 innings over 32 starts, leading the club with 4.9 bWAR.

“Ever since I got the news that I was going to New York, I haven’t felt nervous, I haven’t felt overwhelmed,” Taillon said. “I’ve just been extremely excited for the opportunity. I feel like I’m at a maturity level and a point in my career and my life where this is what I want. This is a team I want to be a part of. I want to help.”