Today is a big day in our RAB-centric baseball world. As A.J. Burnett and Josh Beckett gear up for a showdown in Fenway with first place on the line, the Major League Baseball amateur draft will kick off an hour earlier. While Mike will have coverage all day on RAB, I want to take a trip in the Wayback Machine.
The 1990 Yankees, one of the first teams in my life I remember on a day-to-day basis, were singularly bad. They scored just 603 runs while allowing 749 and finished in seventh place. They were 67-95, 21 games behind the Red Sox. It is now impossible to finish in seventh place.
To understand just how bad that team was, let’s look at their triple slash numbers. As a whole, the Yankees hit .241/.300/.366 that year, good for last in the AL in all three categories. The only bright spots were Jesse Barfield, Roberto Kelly and a flash-in-the-pan Kevin Maas filling in for an injured Don Mattingly.
The pitching staff was equally bad. Tim Leary lost 19 games, and Andy Hawkins carried a 5.37 ERA over 30 starts. The bullpen, anchored by Dave Righetti and featuring Lee Gutterman and Eric Plunk, wasn’t awful. That’s the most charitable assessment of it at least.
Out of that bad, though, came the good. For just the second time in franchise history, the Yankees were able to secure the number one pick in the 1991 June amateur draft. It would be a draft stocked with talent as Shawn Green, Manny Ramirez, Cliff Floyd and Dmitri Young all went in the top 16 picks. For the Yankees, though, it would be a draft of lost opportunity.
With their number one pick, the Yankees opted for a fireball-throwing left-hander out of East Carteret High School in Beaufort, North Carolina. The Times called Brien Taylor “overpowering” and cited his senior year stats. He threw 84 innings and allowed 18 hits and 24 walks while striking out 203. The Yankees, not known for their patience developing players, cited their willingness to wait on Taylor’s development. “If it takes a year or two years or three years, we’ll do it that way,” Brian Sabean, then the Yanks’ VP for player development and scouting, said.
The night before the draft, Taylor was tossing 98-mile-per-hour fastballs but fell on his left shoulder at one point. It would be an ugly omen of things to come.
Signing Taylor was not easy, but in the end, it would result in a historic accord. Over the summer, the dealings turned rancorous. Advised by Scott Boras, Taylor’s family accused Yanks’ GM Gene Michael of disrespecting their son, and Michael defended himself. With Taylor on the verge of attending college, the Yanks swooped in with a record-setting $1.55 million offer, and Taylor signed.
Outside of the money, the signing was controversial. Rumors swirled that the then-suspended George Steinbrenner had inserted himself into the negotiations, and then Steinbrenner, in absentia, took shots at his GM. It was business as usual for the early-1990s Yankees.
For two years, Taylor was as good as advertised. Through his first 54 minor league starts, he had thrown 324 innings with 337 strike outs, 168 walks and a 3.02 ERA. Despite the walks, he was regarded as baseball’s top pitching prospect and seemed to be on the fast track to New York.
Disaster struck on December 18, 1993, when Taylor destroyed his shoulder in a fight outside a North Carolina trailer park. Noted surgeon Frank Jobe called it, in the words of Scott Boras, “one of the worst shoulder injuries” he had ever seen. Taylor would never be the same, and now, at 37, he has avoided any sort of baseball spotlight.
Boras still calls Taylor the best high school arm he had ever seen. It’s hard to tell if that’s just Scott Boras being Scott Boras, but it’s high praise nonetheless. As we sit on the edge of another draft, we can only wonder what might have happened in Yankee history had Brien Taylor stayed healthy and really been as good as he could have been.