Brien Taylor: The Downfall of the Former #1 Overall Pick

Players selected first overall in the Major League Baseball draft are usually can’t-miss players. They can range from young high school superstars to proven veterans at the college level. Regardless of where they come from, they are expected to rise to the major leagues quickly and make an impact for the team that drafted them. Almost all of the number-one overall selections make it to the majors and make an impact, but some do not pan out as planned.

When the New York Yankees had the first selection in the 1991 MLB Draft, they set out to find the starting pitcher they desperately needed, and thought they found it in Brien Taylor. Taylor was a high school phenom from North Carolina, who regularly hit 99 mph on the gun from the left side. Taylor collected 213 strikeouts in 88 innings during his high school career, making him a highly desirable prospect. Taylor eventually signed super-agent Scott Boras to represent him while negotiating contracts with the Yankees. Boras called Taylor “the best high school pitcher I’ve ever seen.”

Taylor had drawn comparisons to Dwight Gooden because of his youth and his explosive fastball. Taylor enjoyed success throughout his first two years in the minors, quickly rising through Single-A and Double-A during his first two years. After the 1993 season, Taylor was expected to continue moving up and possibly even make the major-league roster the next year. He was ranked the top prospect for the 1992 and 1993 seasons. During the winter of 1993, Taylor’s career would change and he would become a household name for the wrong reason.

In December 1993, Taylor was involved in a fight, defending his brother who was getting beaten up. Taylor threw a punch, missed his target, and injured his shoulder in the process. When it was all said and done, Taylor had a torn capsule and labrum in his throwing shoulder. This injury required surgery, and he missed all of the 1994 season. When he recovered from his surgery, Taylor was placed in rookie ball for the 1995 season. His 6.08 ERA in 1995 would be the best for the remainder of his career.

When Taylor returned to baseball after his surgery, he had lost 8-10 miles per hour off of his fastball. He also had trouble locating his pitches and getting out of innings in which men reached base. Taylor himself said, “Sometimes I get the ball over the plate, sometimes I feel I’ve never held a ball in my life.” He could not throw his curveball for a strike, and he couldn’t locate his now-average fastball. After three more seasons in the Yankees Single-A organization from 1996-98 and ERAs of 18.73, 14.33, and 9.59, Taylor was released by the New York Yankees.

Taylor signed a few minor-league contracts, but they led nowhere. He retired from professional baseball in 2000, making him one of only three number-one overall picks to retire without making it to the major leagues. Steve Chilcott was the number-one pick in 1966 and injured his shoulder diving back into a base, thus starting his injury-plagued career and forcing him to retire at the age of 24. Matt Bush, the number-one pick from 2004, has had numerous run-ins with the law and severed a prison sentence for a DUI, which left a man severely injured. He was released from prison in October 2015, and the Rangers signed the 30-year-old to a minor league deal in December.

After his playing days were over, Taylor moved back home to North Carolina and worked a number of odd jobs. In 2012, Taylor was arrested for cocaine trafficking after selling some to an undercover cop. In August 2012, he was convicted and sentenced to 38 months in prison. He served about two years and was released in September 2014.

Brien Taylor had all the talent in the world to be one of the best pitchers ever. His explosive fastball could have made him a great ballplayer and could have made the 1990s Yankees dynasty even better. If Taylor had not injured himself, it would have been truly exciting to see what he could have accomplished.

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