“I’ve been through 28 drafts,” agent Scott Boras said back in 2006, “and Brien Taylor, still to this day, is the best high school pitcher I’ve seen in my life.”
Brien Taylor was a hotshot prospect back in the day, specifically, in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The New York Yankees made him the first pick of the 1991 MLB Draft. He was a left-hander with a prodigious fastball that touched 100 miles per hour, and he was on the fast-track to success.
However, everything went south when he was involved in a fight and destroyed his pitching shoulder. But what if Taylor, perhaps the most impressive high school pitcher to take a mound, had stayed healthy and didn’t blow out his shoulder on that fateful day of 1993?
A hot prospect
Born in Beaufort, North Carolina, Taylor first came to prominence pitching at East Carteret High School. There, he opened plenty of eyes with his natural ability and, of course, his high-velocity heater. As a prep, the hard-throwing lefty had a win–loss record of 29-6 and a 1.25 ERA, striking out 213 hitters in 88 innings while walking 28.
The Yankees took him first in the draft in 1991. After threatening to attend a local junior college, the Bombers gave him $1.55 million to sign with them.
He was Baseball America’s number one prospect leading to the 1992 season, and occupied the second spot a year later. His early career in the minors started on the right foot: he had a 2.57 ERA in Class A-Advanced in 1992, with 187 punchouts in 161.1 frames. A year later, he finished with a 3.48 ERA in 163 innings at Double-A. He was destined for success.
The nastiest of injuries
Things went from promising to ugly in a hurry. Mike Axisa, in his 2012 article “Looking Back: The Brien Taylor Story” tells it best:
A few weeks after the end of the season and a few days before his 22nd birthday, an argument between Taylor’s older brother Brenden and his girlfriend’s family turned into a fight, and the best pitching prospect in baseball threw a punch that didn’t connect. Boras initially called the injury a bruise, but the reality of the situation was much more dire. Brien basically ripped his left arm right out of the socket, dislocating his shoulder and tearing both his labrum and capsule.
“I can remember [Dr. Frank Jobe] sitting me down,” recounted Boras back in 2006. “He said, This is one of the worst shoulder injuries I’ve ever seen,’ and I believed it. The way he tore it was unnatural.”
The best pitching prospect in baseball suffered arguably the worst injury a hurler can experience: his throwing shoulder. It was shattered.
Rehab took about a year, and when Taylor returned, he was never the same. He had lost multiple miles per hour in his fastball, with most sources saying that the pitch was eight mph slower. In addition, he lost virtually all of his control.
He made eleven starts when he came back for the rookie-ball Gulf Coast League Yankees in 1995. In 40 innings, he walked 54 batters, hit 10 and had 16 wild pitches. He barely, and rarely, topped 90 mph.
By 1996, he was supposed to be in the Yankees’ rotation already, perhaps as a staple of the next dynasty alongside fellow lefty Andy Pettitte. Instead, he threw 68.2 innings from 1996 to 1998, with 104 bases on balls. His career was over shortly after that.
“If I’d been doing things that were stupid and didn’t make any sense, I would have felt a lot worse about it,” said Taylor in 1994. “I feel that what happened with me is a family thing and I was there for my family. But I don’t feel bad about it for one day because the reason it happened is not because I was being stupid out there.”
There he was: arguably the top prospect to come over in years injured his shoulder while fighting, and it ruined his career. He became notoriously famous for not reaching the majors while being a first overall pick, a “club” in which he is joined by fellow busts/injury stories Steve Chilcott, Mark Appel, and Brady Aiken.
What if Taylor had stayed healthy? It’s impossible to know for sure, but he surely had played in the big leagues, at the very least. With his dominant fastball, projectability and track record of success in high school and even in the high minors—remember, he had a very good season in Double-A in 1993—it’s possible that he had enjoyed a lengthy career in the big show.
And the Yankees? Well, it’s hard to complain at what fate had prepared for the Bombers in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but if Taylor had been up, healthy and, as projected, dominant, maybe the team would have achieved another World Series or two. Who knows? This is purely speculation on my part, but Taylor was that talented.
It’s too bad things didn’t work out in his favor.