KANSAS CITY, Mo. —
When Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon walk into locker rooms after minor league games, they tinker with the TV.
“The Pirates team is always on in the clubhouse,” Cole said.
To the extent that technology filters down to farm teams.
“Right when we finish, we try to find them if they’ve got that MLB HD package,” Taillon said.
Pittsburgh is hot after almost two decades of struggles, and Cole and Taillon are among the top young players hoping to join the fun in the not-too-distant future.
“It’s their division to lose,” Cole said.
Cole threw an explosive fastball ranging from 96-100 mph in Sunday’s All-Star Futures Game, allowing a two-run, opposite-field home run to Jae-Hoon Ha of the Chicago Cubs in the second inning of the U.S. team’s 17-5 rout of the World.
Cole struck out two, struggling a bit with his control as he walked Cleveland’s Jesus Aguilar ahead of the homer to right.
The first pick in last year’s amateur draft, Cole was just promoted to Double-A and was among five pitchers from the stellar 2011 first round at Sunday’s game – with Arizona’s Trevor Bauer making it to the big leagues last month.
Taillon, taken by the Pirates with the No. 2 overall selection two years ago, had the stall adjacent to Cole’s at renovated Kauffman Stadium, hosting the big league All-Stars for the first time since 1973.
“Coming into spring training, there was a lot of hype and a lot of buzz around Pirate City,” Taillon said. “It’s really good to see. The guys up on the big league club, from what I can tell, are all high-character guys. They play the game the right way. The thing I welcome most is that they preach from the top down to run hard 90s, take the extra base, pitch in aggressive and all that stuff that they’re doing at the big league level. And I think you’re feeling the trickle effect down. We want to take the extra base. We want to play hard. We want to be dirty.”
At 48-37, the NL Central-leading Pirates have their best record at the All-Star break since 1991, according to STATS LLC. Pittsburgh lost the NL championship series to Atlanta in seven games that year, returned to the NLCS the following season and was one out from the pennant when Francisco Cabrera’s two-run single capped a three-run ninth that gave the Braves a 3-2 Game 7 win.
Pittsburgh has finished with a losing record for 19 consecutive seasons since then, a record surpassing the Philadelphia Phillies from 1933-48.
“A couple of years ago, when I got drafted, everyone says, ‘How bad does it stink to get drafted by a team with 20 straight losing years?” Taillon recalled. “The answer is always, obviously it doesn’t stink. Right now is a really fun time to be a part of it. There’s buzz from everyone. Friends and family text me saying, ‘You see (Andrew) McCutchen hit his home run tonight?’ ”
Using high draft picks, the Pirates have invested in youth since Frank Coonelly took over as team president in September 2007 and hired Neal Huntington as general manager.
Pedro Alvarez, the No. 2 pick overall the following year, signed a four-year deal worth $6,355,000 and has struggled in the majors but still has 16 homers and 50 RBIs this season despite a .231 average. Catcher Tony Sanchez, taken with the No. 4 pick, signed for $2.5 million in 2009 and was promoted last month to Triple-A.
Taillon, a high school pitcher selected with the second pick in 2010, got a $6.5 million signing bonus. Cole, the No. 1 pick last year, received $8 million.
And now the Pirates have less than a week to reach a deal with Stanford pitcher Mark Appel, a top prospect selected eighth in this year of new restraints on draft spending. Appel, like Alvarez and Cole, is represented by Scott Boras – meaning a decision is likely to be made just ahead of Friday’s 5 p.m. deadline.
“We knew we had to rebuild the minor league system and fill the pipeline to Pittsburgh and figured early on we had to invest heavily in the draft and heavily in the international market,” Coonelly said. “We know it’s a game of attrition and you can never have enough good, young talent ‘’
Cole, a 21-year-old right-hander, is 2-1 with a 4.63 ERA in three starts for the Double-A Altoona Curve after going 5-1 with a 2.55 ERA for the Class A Bradenton Marauders, where he struck out 69 in 67 innings.
His biggest adjustment has been mental, switching to an eat, sleep, dream baseball environment from his life at UCLA. He opted for college, spurning the New York Yankees after they took him 28th overall in 2008.
“You got up, you did weights, and then you’ve got to go to class,” he recalled. “And then you’d shower and try to beat LA traffic and get to the field. Then after, you’ve got to write a paper.”
Before he was promoted to Double-A, Cole was buddies in Bradenton with Taillon, a 20-year-old righty. They played the Zombies video game.
“He likes fishing. He likes golfing. Two things I like to do,” Taillon said. “He’s a pretty good cook, believe it or not. He cooks fish, chicken, he’s cooked us dinner a couple times. He’s just a real outgoing person, not always what you expect from the top guys and whatnot. He’s just one of the guys. In the locker room, he’s the one that keeps it loose.”
Black socks pulled high and with black spikes and gold laces, they both looked ready for the majors sartorially. Cole wore a shirt with gold and black – the Pirates’ colors. Taillon, like Cole, struggled a bit, allowing a run in the sixth on a pair of doubles.
In Pittsburgh, the Pirates were beating up on Tim Lincecum in a 13-2 win over the San Francisco Giants. Fans are excited, with an average home attendance of 25,475, the team’s highest at the break since PNC’s first season in 2001, according to STATS. Coonelly said some got a chance to work on their heckling Sunday.
“They haven’t really had an opportunity to hone those skills in a while,” he said. “They’ve been waiting for a team that they can really rally behind for far too long and they’re enjoying it. Our fans have been more than patient, They’ve shown more patience than any fan base should ever be asked to have to show.”
Notes: Detroit’s Nick Castellanos hit a three-run homer during a nine-run sixth inning, and Royals minor leaguer Wil Myers had three RBIs. Billy Hamilton and Manny Machado also drove in a pair of runs for the U.S. team, contributing to a record 22 combined runs. Castellanos was the game’s MVP and Myers, a 21-year-old OF, received a standing ovation from a sellout crowd of 40,095. ... Orioles prospect Dylan Bundy earned the win by pitching a scoreless fourth inning. Tampa Bay minor leaguer Felipe Rivero allowed a pair of runs in the fourth to take the loss. ... Detroit RHP Bruce Rondon hit 101-102 mph with his fastball in the eighth. ... Toronto’s Anthony Gose made a snazzy diving catch.