Most people say all the right things during an introductory press conference, but Jameson Taillon comes across as a guy who really means it. Former teammates share glowing descriptions of him and even his competitors love him, so hearing him talk Monday about why he chose the Cubs just drove everything home.
It also explained why the Cubs targeted Taillon right out of the gate even though his numbers make him seem a little more like a middle-of-the-rotation starter. As Jed Hoyer looks to build a roster that will lean heavily on defense and pitching, it appears as though intangibles will play a big role. Players like Taillon and Dansby Swanson aren’t just there because of their stats, something the pitcher alluded to during his conversation with the media.
“From everything I’ve heard — off the field, in the clubhouse, in the locker room — [Swanson]’s going to make people better,” Taillon said. “I’ve heard he holds people accountable. I’ve heard he really wants to win. I don’t think he would have picked Chicago or gone to Chicago if he wasn’t convinced that we could build a winner and get back to that level.”
From the sound of it, the Cubs had a unique recruiting approach and were the only team that met with Taillon in person. They also sent him custom videos to pitch the Wrigley Field experience and the history of the team and city. Not that he needed a lot of convincing as a kid who grew up in Texas watching games on WGN.
“I actually grew up an Astros fan and the Astros played the Cubs in the NL Central back in the day,” Taillon explained. “I was always watching WGN as a kid, coming home from school and watching those games.”
Was seven-year-old Taillon watching as Kerry Wood carved up the Astros for 20 strikeouts? Perhaps, but the former Pirate recalled another game in which a dominant pitcher went to work.
“One of my first road trips was to Chicago when I was with Pittsburgh, and I think it was a Friday day game with (Jake) Arrieta on the mound when he was untouchable,” Taillon said. “And I remember just like taking a step back and feeling the environment. There’s nothing better than a day game at Wrigley in the summer.
“I remember thinking at the time, like, ‘This is the big leagues right here. This is the show.’ So to have an opportunity to call that my own field and my home fans and stuff is super exciting.”
In addition to having an almost fan-like sense of nostalgia drawing him to Chicago, the big righty is looking forward to what the pitching infrastructure can do to boost his performance. After all, the pitch lab isn’t just about developing prospects. Taillon hasn’t been quite the same since his most recent Tommy John surgery, whether it’s getting away from his sinker or struggling with the consistency of his breaking balls.
“I feel like I still have some untapped potential that I’m really trying to hunt down and I felt like this was a great fit to help me find that,” Taillon admitted.
“If I could find a way to kind of bag up like my best version of my slider and my best version of my cutter — like, how can we limit the variability in those pitches? How can we just make my slider the best pitch every single time and not have the shape kind of change from outing to outing? That’s something that I’m really interested in hammering down.”
Taillon just sounds like a very humble, down-to-earth person who Cubs fans are going to love. He talked with Anthony Rizzo and Scott Effross about playing in Chicago, gushed about getting some Connect Roasters coffee from Ian Happ well before the two were teammates and came across as the kind of person every team wants in the clubhouse.
The Cubs still have a lot of work to do and it’s still very easy to criticize some of their moves, and maybe more of their non-moves, but this Taillon deal looks really good so far. Let’s hope we’re saying the same thing after a few starts.