The result of the Washington Nationals’ recent draft history being as high-profile as it has is that many of their top prospects are names most people have heard of. Sammy Solis, Matt Purke, Anthony Rendon, Lucas Giolito. The list could go on.
But one name that will likely be on a few more radar screens in the coming weeks is that of right-hander Taylor Jordan, who is tearing up the Eastern League for Double-A Harrisburg.
“He’s executing,” said Nationals director of player development Doug Harris. “We always liked him, but he’s come back really well (from 2011 Tommy John surgery) and his attention to detail with regard to his preparation improved immensely through the rehab process. He matured a great deal.
“And his stuff is awesome.”
How impressive has Jordan been this season? After he went eight innings and allowed one run to the Orioles’ Double-A affiliate on Wednesday night, his ERA increased to 0.95.
“Things are going well,” Jordan said by phone last week. “As well as I wanted them to for this year coming into it. I expected to be in Double-A out of spring training. That didn’t happen but my goal was to be in Double-A, and now things are going great.”
Jordan was ninth-round pick the Nationals plucked out of Brevard Community College in 2009, and he seemed to be coming into his own as a 22-year-old with Single A Hagerstown in 2011. He was 9-4 that season with a 2.48 ERA. But his ulnar collateral ligament gave out in the process and on Sept. 7, 2011, Jordan underwent Tommy John surgery.
He pitched some for short-season Single-A Auburn and back at Single-A Hagerstown in 2012 as he continued his rehab, but he broke camp with Single-A Potomac this spring and earned his May 9 promotion to Double-A by averaging six innings every start and allowing just five total earned runs.
Since he joined Harrisburg, though, the numbers have gotten even more ridiculous.
In seven starts at Double-A, Jordan is averaging seven innings per start and has allowed just four earned runs. He’s tossed two complete games, both of which were shutouts, though one was seven innings and one was nine.
Harris describes him as a “power sinker” guy who can throw his two-seam fastball anywhere from 90-94 mph and has good movement on the pitch. He’s got an above average changeup, which Jordan called a “circle-change,” and a slider Harris termed as “developing.” He also throws a high percentage of strikes with 71 strikeouts to just 14 walks this season.
But what Jordan also has working for him is a unique delivery and arm action that allows him significant deception. His ability to repeat it is what makes it so effective.
“His arm action is atypical,” Harris said, though describing this motion can be tricky. Even Jordan said he has absolutely no idea how he gets his deception.
“People tell me that I’m deceptive but I don’t ever watch videos of me and I never pick apart my mechanics,” he said. “So I have no clue even what I look like.”
Jordan also attributed a great deal of his success, particularly at the Double-A level, to his defense and his catcher, Sandy Leon, who spent time in the major leagues in 2012.
“I can honestly tell you that my catcher, Sandy Leon, and I are on the same page and he knows exactly what I should throw and I can attribute most of it to him,” Jordan said. “I definitely love throwing to him. I don’t even shake him off. I don’t need to. I literally haven’t shook him off since I first threw to him.”
For the Nationals, who are thin on starting pitching depth at the top levels of their system, Jordan is an intriguing guy.
They have shown this season they obviously have no qualms about calling up players from Double-A — Nate Karns, Rendon and Ian Krol have all been summoned from there already — and Jordan’s performance has thrust him into that type of conversation.
But the Nationals do not have to protect Jordan from the Rule 5 draft until this coming offseason, and he is not currently on the 40-man roster (which worked in Karns’ favor when a need arose earlier this season because he is on the 40-man roster).
Harris would only say that all of those types of decisions are left to general manager Mike Rizzo, but “we feel like (Jordan) is in a very good place, and he’s a product of our system.”
For a while, Jordan wondered what he needed to do to get promoted. He thought about it so much it was keeping him up at night and consuming him far more than the Nationals would’ve liked. He talked with Double-A pitching coach Paul Menhart about it, though, and is trying to simply focus on himself now.
“He just told me don’t worry about that, keep pitching how you’re pitching and you’re going to get there,” Jordan said. “I couldn’t really sleep because all I was thinking about what I could do to move up.”
In his last five starts, Jordan has averaged 7 2/3 innings and allowed only three runs. He’s struck out 30 batters and walked five.
“I’m kind of just going with the flow now,” he said.