Taylor turned 43 last month and has been out of professional baseball for 15 years.
In 1991, the Yankees picked Taylor with the 1st overall pick out of East Carteret High School in Beufort, North Carolina. Taylor, the second of four children, was born to a mason and a crab picker. He played on the baseball team at East Carteret and as Taylor's onetime advisor Scott Boras put it in 2006, "Brien Taylor, still to this day, is the best high school pitcher I've seen in my life."
Taylor often hit 98 and 99 on the gun in high school. During his four years, he totaled a win-loss record of 29-6 with a 1.25 ERA. He struck out 213 hitters in 88 innings pitched. Scouts marveled at the success of Taylor. "There are certain pitchers who come along every so often and you don't know how to describe them," said Mike Fox, the head coach at the University of North Carolina. "Well, you can describe Brien pretty quickly: No one could touch him."
Taylor going number one overall to the Yankees was hardly a surprise. New York offered him a $300,000 signing bonus, the typical amount for a top draft choice at the time. The money was already a life changing amount for his family, but under the discretion of Boras, Taylor held out for more money. He held out to the point where the Yankees signed him for $1.55 million the day before he would have headed to a local community college on scholarship.
Taylor wasn't able to get a scholarship from a top university; his grades were poor in high school, but even still he was able to pressure the Yankees into signing him to the largest bonus ever.
Even before Taylor stepped on a professional mound, Baseball America ranked him as the top prospect in all of baseball. In 1992, at the age of 20, Taylor pitched 161.1 innings at the High Single-A level, posting a strikeout percentage of 28.2 percent (strikeouts/batters faced) and a walk percentage of 9.9 percent. Those numbers earned Taylor a promotion to Double-A for the 1993 season.
Taylor wasn't as good in Double-A as he was the year before, but people could not fathom a 21-year-old lefty having a ton of success at that high of a level in the minors. In simpler terms, the small regression was expected. He still went 13-7 with a 3.48 ERA that year, as both his strikeout and walk percentages didn't reach the same numbers as the prior season.
The Yankees planned for Taylor to pitch in Triple-A in 1994 and be in the Major Leagues by 1995 at the latest. Initially, New York planned for Taylor to be on the fast track to the Majors, like how the Mets expedited Dwight Gooden's debut. However, they found that he needed to hold runners at first better, and decided to have him progress through systematically.
Anyway, in 1993, Taylor was injured while defending his brother in a fistfight. He and his cousin went to confront Ron Wilson, the man who hurt his brother, but instead got into an altercation with the man's friend, Jamie Morris. According to Wilson, Taylor hurt his shoulder when throwing and missing a punch at Morris. Following the incident, Boras told reporters that Taylor had just suffered a bruise.
That was not the case. The Yankees had Taylor visit Dr. Frank Jobe, the same man who preformed the first "Tommy John surgery" on Dodgers pitcher Tommy John. Jobe called Taylor's injury one of the worst he had ever seen. Jobe repaired a torn capsule and a torn glenoid labrum in his shoulder. Essentially, he tore his shoulder right out of its socket. He missed the entire 1994 season.
Taylor would come back to baseball in 1995 and over the next four seasons he never was able to get back to Double-A. In 108 2/3 innings from 1995 to 1998, Taylor walked an astounding 175 hitters, and failed to top 90 mph with his fastball. His tenure with the Yankees came to an end after the 1998 season after he could no longer get hitters out in Single-A ball.
The Mariners gave Taylor a chance in 1999, but he was released following inconsistency in his extended Spring Training games.
"Sometimes I get the ball across the plate, sometimes I feel like I've never held a ball in my life," Taylor said in 1996.
Taylor signed with the Indians in 2000 and did make their Single-A team. But at age 28, he could not find his former self within him. He pitched 2 2/3 innings with Cleveland's Single-A Columbus team, giving up 11 runs (eight earned), while walking nine and striking out just two. That was the end of Taylor's career, giving him the title of "perhaps the best pitcher we never got to see."
After retiring from the game, Taylor moved to Raleigh, North Carolina with his five daughters and worked as a UPS package handler, then as a beer distributor. He moved back home by 2006, working as a bricklayer with his father. In 2005, Taylor was charged with misdemeanor child abuse, after leaving four of his daughters (ages 2-11) home for more than eight hours.
Taylor was charged with cocaine trafficking in 2012 and was charged with 38 months in prison in August of that year. After being released in September of last year, Taylor will be supervised for the next three years. Brien Taylor has practically fallen off the face of the Earth.
Why is all this important? As we approach the 2015 season, many fans will be watching for their team's top prospects to improve at the minor league level. Every prospect comes with a little bit of doubt. This is an extreme example, but even though Taylor showed promise and progression, one injury or incident can ruin a player's career forever. The minor leagues are practically a black hole. If any player can survive them with health and with success, then they are going places.
Prospects are exactly that, prospects. Some may turn out to be great, while others, like Taylor, will be the failure stories for many years to come. Teams have to put way more effort into the background of their draftees and make sure that they aren't only a good ballplayer, but a good person as well. I'm not saying Taylor isn't. But maybe if he had made better choices, he would have been a better player.
Taylor changed the MLB Draft and how fans look at prospects forever. And taught everyone a valuable lesson. Prospects are just prospects.
All quotes are not mine. They are from outside sources.