PITTSBURGH - Jameson Taillon, the Pittsburgh Pirates' No. 1 pitching prospect, will have elbow ligament replacement surgery that will push his development back 12 to 18 months.
General manager Neal Huntington made the announcement before Sunday's game against St. Louis.
Taillon, 22, has been sidelined since late in spring training, and spent the last week seeking additional medical opinions. According to Huntington, the ligament is compromised but not torn, which means the "Tommy John" surgery was not an automatic choice.
After reviewing the options with his family and advisers, Taillon chose to have the surgery. No date has been set for the procedure, which takes only about 30 minutes but interrupts a pitcher's career for at least a year.
"This is one of the tough ones," Huntington said. "It's not the best news, but it's not the end of the world either. Jameson is going to work through this, and we look forward to getting him back on a mound next spring."
Taillon Tweeted his thanks for good wishes, then concluded his message by writing, "Going to be stronger."
Dr. David Altchek, a specialist associated with the New York Mets, will perform the surgery.
"We gave Jameson a period of rest - maybe not the longest period of rest - and his symptoms did not subside," Huntington said.
The surgery was named for Tommy John, a major league pitcher from 1963-89, whose career was rescued in the mid-1970s by the then-new procedure. Doctors take a ligament from elsewhere in the body and replace the damaged ligament in the elbow.
The success rate has grown over the decades, but it is not foolproof. Darren Dreifort and Mike Hampton are listed among the pitchers who never fully regained their success after the surgery.
However, the success stories include John Smoltz, Billy Wagner and Chris Carpenter. Current Pirates starter Charlie Morton had the surgery two years ago.
"It's really a shame, but I think he's going to come out of this much better," Morton said. "He'll feel better physically and the challenge is going to make him better."
Closer Jason Grilli also had the surgery in 2002 and said, "He just has to put in the work, and I think he'll come back better. It will be worth the wait."
"Jameson is such a hard-working, conscientious, smart young man, that we believe he's going to do everything he can to control everything within his power in his rehab and come back next year as strong if not stronger than ever," Huntington said.
Although the return can occur in less than 12 months, Huntington said, "Our success has been more significant when we've been longer than 12 months. I would think we're going to look to protect Jameson from himself because he's going to look to come back on the shorter end of that. As great as he's going to feel at the 10 or 11 month mark, we need to have time for the body to recover and for the ligament to get strong."
Taillon, a 6-foot-5, 245-pound power pitcher, was expected to join the Pirates' rotation sometime this season, following the pattern set by Gerrit Cole last season.
Instead, Taillon will now focus on getting back on the mound in 2015.
"It's hard not to dream of a Cole-Taillon (combination)," Huntington said. "The dream is just a little delayed now."
Taillon pitched 110 and 1/3 innings for the Curve last season, appearing in 19 games. He then made six starts for Class AAA Indianapolis and pitched 37 innings there.
Taillon was the Pirates' No. 1 draft pick in 2010, the second player picked overall. He received a signing bonus of $6.5 million.
Who's on deck?
Starting pitching depth is always an issue, and the Pirates have one less candidate with Taillon out.
Huntington said the next two possibilities are already on the staff: Jeanmar Gomez and Stolmy Pimentel. Beyond them, there's Jeff Locke, who is currently on the disabled list, but will soon be ready to join the Indianapolis staff.
Huntington also mentioned Brandon Cumpton, Casey Sadler, Phil Irwin and Vance Worley, who was acquired from Minnesota during spring training.
Just for fun
After two years of flashing the Zoltan "Z" to celebrate success, the Pirates have a new gimmick.
At the suggestion of Andrew McCutchen, they're now pantomiming firing pistols with each hand, then stuffing the imaginary weapons in imaginary holsters.