A Conversation with Pirates Prospect Taylor Hearn

Taylor Hearn was viewed as a lottery ticket when he was acquired by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2016 Mark Melancon trade. A little over a year later, the 23 year old lefty fireballer is one of the club’s top prospects. Now he’s off to a hot start in Glendale in the Arizona Fall League.

The Pittsburgh Pirates’ number 11 prospect Taylor Hearn was kind enough to join me on the Pirates Breakdown Radio Network to discuss the Arizona Fall League, his transition back to a starter, getting healthy and his pitch selection, which includes a surprise strikeout pitch. You can listen to the whole interview, but here some quick cliff notes.

Full interview

His best pitch is his…changeup?

Hearn has been universally praised among scouts and analysts for his fastball, which hits triple digits. That type of velocity turned the Pittsburgh Pirates heads, much as it would for any time. Usually when they are done gushing over his heater, attention turns to his slider, which has progressed since coming to professional ball.

But he thinks his third pitch- a changeup – is his best.

“I throw it a lot more [than my slider],” Hearn said. “It’s my strikeout pitch and it’s a pitch I have a feel for. I can throw at any point in the count, at any time.”

Hearn has been throwing a changeup with the same grip since he was eight years old. So even though he did not throw it a lot in Washington’s farm system, it was easy to bring back.

“I know a lot of people think it’s my worst pitch, when in reality, if you actually watch me play a game or start, you’ll see I throw my changeup a lot,” Hearn said.

Back as a starter again

That changeup is being put to good use now that Hearn is a starter again. In Washington’s farm system, the Nationals tried to convert him into a fastball/slider reliever. While many scouts see that as being his best path to the majors, the Pirates are stretching him out.

Hearn’s first year as a starter went fairly well, recording a 4.12 ERA in High-A Bradenton, though his FIP and xFIP were much better (3.41 and 2.84, respectively). He also struck out 106 in 87.1 innings.

That time as a reliever may still have a positive effect on him as a starter.

“It brought a new edge and a new approach for me, and I take when I’m starting, also,” Hearn said.

Finally healthy

Hearn did land on the disabled list in July with a strained oblique. While that took a bite out of his season, it is nothing compared to what he went through a few years ago. A strain UCL shut him down in his senior year of high school. His freshman year in college was shortened when a pair of humeral fractures resulted in him needing a screw put in his elbow. As a result, he barely pitched any competitive innings from June 2012 through 2014.

Hearn spent a lot of those two and a half years watching film with his old pitching coach, trying to make the most out of his downtime. He also learned how to take care of his body better through exercise and diet.

“The main thing is just timing, because that’s the one thing that’s going to come last,” Hearn said. “…Honestly, the biggest thing I’ve learned is being patient and letting things come naturally.”

There is one other silver lining: “My body is still fresh,” Hearn said.

Image Credit – Flickr Creative Commons

Alex Stumpf

Alex is a credentialed Pirates beat reporter with The Pittsburgh Sports Report. He writes for a variety of sites, including Pirates Breakdown, The Point of Pittsburgh and Fangraphs. You can follow him @AlexJStumpf.