Brien Taylor was a highly touted pitcher whose name most Yankee fans will know by the tragic story of the way his career was derailed. He was the first player selected overall in the 1991 draft, and was ranked the #1 prospect in the minors by Baseball America in 1993. But being selected first in the draft guarantees you nothing, as Bryan Bullington and Matt Bush can attest. So let’s take a look at the two seasons he pitched in the Yankee organization and see if we had someone who was truly exciting, the next big thing, or someone who was already showing troubling signs in his time in the minors. Here are his stats:
|A (4 seasons)||A||17||71.1||2.986||10.5||1.8||16.4||6.3||0.38|
|AA (1 season)||AA||27||163.0||1.405||7.0||0.4||5.6||8.3||1.47|
|Rk (1 season)||Rk||11||40.0||2.075||6.5||0.2||12.2||8.6||0.70|
|A+ (1 season)||A+||27||161.1||1.159||6.8||0.2||3.7||10.4||2.83|
First thing that jumps out at me is that walk rate. It’s way too high. He averaged walking almost 5 men per 9 innings pitched in roughly 320 IP, and that’s facing hitters in A ball and AA. In his 2nd year as a pro, Taylor led the Eastern League in walks with 102 in just 163 IP. I also don’t like the trend of the SO rate declining and the BB/9 increasing as he climbs the ladder. That tells me that as the level of competition has improved, his results suffered. A WHIP of 1.405 in AA would scream middling prospect to me if his name was ‘Joe Smith‘ instead of Brien Taylor. He doesn’t give up many hits, which is good but not all that surprising. When a pitcher has this much trouble throwing strikes hitters take notice and leave the bat on their shoulder. This trend will only become more pronounced as he climbs the ladder to the big leagues unless he learns how to throw more strikes and makes hitters pay for being too patient. HR/9 doubled year over year, which isn’t surprising and is still relatively low. But if that trend continued it could have been an issue by the time he reached the major leagues. Did a good job missing bats (averaging 9.35 SO/9) though again the trend line went downward facing better hitters. Striking out 8.3 per 9 facing AA hitters is nice, but doesn’t scream “best prospect in baseball” to me.
There were also some questions about his work ethic and dedication to improving. In game action he had trouble holding runners on, which is common among pitchers his age. The Yankees requested he report to instructs in the winter to work on his fundamentals. Brien declined, saying he was “tired” from the “pressure” of the season. He was also a poor student, which prevented him from getting into a major college program out of high school. Overall, this looks like the type of prospect who generally gets exposed as he climbs the ladder and faces more advanced competition, where the hitters become more selective and the mistakes get hit harder.
For most of our lives as Yankee fans we’ve heard the cautionary tale of Brien Taylor, who lost a promising career as a can’t-miss prospect due to a hometown bar fight in December of 1993 (the winter he was supposed to be in instructs). But the stats tell a different story, one of a pitcher who was very likely to have failed at the big league level had his control not improved. If the year over year trend on his walk rate had worsened, which is likely as the hitters he faced get increasingly selective, its quite possible he would have never made the big leagues at all. If he did, his stay would have been a short one.
Personally, the tale of Brien Taylor has never bothered me as much as others because we really don’t know where it would have led. Maybe it would have all clicked in and he would have been the next Randy Johnson, who also struggled greatly with his control as a young pitcher. But most pitchers, even the highly talented ones, don’t work out for whatever reason. In his case, everyone gets to point to the fight as the cause of his demise. But pitchers who don’t get into bar fights get hurt all the time, and others who don’t get hurt never figure out how to throw strikes or learn how to pitch. Pitching prospects have such a huge rate of attrition, the odds are against them being successful at the MLB level even under the best of circumstances. Assuming a golden future for Brien Taylor had he stayed home that fateful night is a bet I personally wouldn’t make.
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