Results tagged ‘ Yankees ’
As I walked back to my apartment from dinner Friday night, I noticed that I had a lot of text messages – a rarity as I do not text much – and I realized that Johan Santana had thrown the first no-hitter in the history of the New York Mets.
Though many people know Santana’s exploits in the major leagues – the Cy Young awards, the sub-1 WHIPs – Santana’s path was anything but ordinary. In 1995, the Houston Astros signed Santana out of Venezuela as a center fielder. Due to his arm strength, left-handedness, and perceived inability to become a major league hitter, Santana was soon converted to a pitcher. After finally being granted a visa, Santana was assigned to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Astros, where he put up a 7.93 ERA across nine games (five starts) and 36.1 innings. Promoted to the Short Season A Auburn Doubledays of the New York Penn League, Santana made one four-inning start to end the season, allowing just one run and one hit, walking six and striking out five.
To start the 1998 season, Santana was held back in extended spring training, and was sent back to Auburn in June, striking out 88 while walking 21 in 86.1 innings over 15 starts, putting up a 4.36 ERA. At the end of the season, Santana made two appearances for the full season A Quad Cities River Bandits of the Midwest League. Santana struggled in his two appearances, putting up a 9.45 ERA over 6.2 innings.
In 1999, Santana had his best season pitching for the Michigan Battle Cats of the Midwest League, putting up a 4.66 ERA in 27 games (26 starts) over 160.1 innings, striking out 150 and walking 55 in his age-20 season.
After the season, the Astros left Santana unprotected in the Rule V draft, and, just two years after losing Bobby Abreu in the 1997 Expansion Draft, the Florida Marlins selected Santana with the second pick of the 1999 Rule V draft. The Marlins then dealt Santana to the Minnesota Twins for Jared Camp, the first pick of the 1999 Rule V draft.
The Rule V draft is fascinating, as to be eligible for the Rule V draft, a player:
- Is not included on the 40-man roster of the organization holding his contract; and
- Has been in the minors and/or majors for at least four years, if he was signed after his 19th birthday; or
- Has been in the minors and/or majors for at least five years, if he was signed before his 19th birthday.
In short, to hold onto Santana, all the Astros had to do was put him on the 40-man roster. However, to hold onto Santana, the Twins were required to keep Santana on their major league roster for the 2000 entire season, something that is difficult to do when a young player has not played at a level even close to the majors. The Twins, sensing the talent in Santana, kept him on the roster as the entire season as the long man and a spot starter, appearing in 30 games, pitching 86 innings with a 6.49 ERA. In 2001, Santana served in a similar role, pitching 43.2 innings with a much-improved 4.74 ERA before straining his left elbow flexor and missing two months.
In 2002, Santana was to be turned back into a starter and opened the season in the minor leagues for the first time in two years, putting up a 3.14 ERA across 48.2 innings for the AAA Edmonton Trappers of the Pacific Coast League before being brought back to Minnesota. Santana started to show his talent, putting up a 2.99 ERA in 27 games (14 start) for the Twins, striking out 137 and walking 49.
In 2003, Santana opened the season as a middle reliever for the Twins, putting up a 1.59 ERA in his first 11 appearances. Santana made a spot start, going five innings against the high-powered offense of the Boston Red Sox, allowing no runs in five innings. After seven more relief appearances with a 6.52 ERA, Santana became a starter for the duration of the season, putting up a sparkling 3.22 ERA across 92.1 innings, putting up an 8-2 record. During the 2003 season, Santana put up a 3.07 ERA across 45 games (18 starts) while striking out 169 batters and walking 47 batters. Despite the seemingly pedestrian statistics (though the 3.07 ERA was good for a 148 ERA+), Santana picked up one fifth-place Cy Young vote.
In 2004, Santana dominated, putting up a 2.61 ERA across 228 innings, striking out 265 with a 20-6 record. Even more amazing was the second half of Santana’s season. After putting up a 3.78 ERA in 19 starts across 123.2 innings, Santana overwhelmed opponents with a 1.21 ERA across 15 starts over 104.1 innings while averaging 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. Even more amazing was Santana’s final six starts of the season, all in September. Across 40 innings, Santana allowed only two runs (both earned), while striking out 52. After the season, Santana was awarded the American League Cy Young award.
Over the next three years, Santana established himself as one of the most reliable and dominating pitchers in the major leagues, winning another Cy Young, coming in third place and fifth place one time each. From 2004 through 2007, Santana put up a 70-32 record, striking out 983 while walking 198 and allowing 705 hits. In 2005, Santana went 16-7 with a 2.87 ERA. In 2006, Santana went 19-6 with a 2.77 ERA, striking out 245 to lead the league in strikeouts for the third consecutive season. Additionally, Santana won the pitching triple crown, leading the American league in wins, ERA, and strikeouts. In 2007, Santana seemed to take a step backwards, put up a 3.33 ERA across 219 innings and had his first WHIP higher than 1.000 since 2003.
After the season, the Twins, fearing Santana would leave as a free agent after his contract expired after 2008, looked for a team willing to give up multiple top prospects. Rumors swirled around multiple large-market franchises, including the Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, and New York Yankees. The Yankees were rumored to be offering a number of packages involving different prospects, including Melky Cabrera, Phil Hughes, Jeffrey Marquez, Ian Kennedy, and Jhonny Nunez. The Red Sox were dangling a number of packages as well, including packages that included a combination of Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie, and veteran Coco Crisp. The Dodgers were dangling packages involving prospects Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw, who was viewed as the best pitching prospect at the time.
While the Mets were rumored to be involved, they refused to part with top prospect Fernando Martinez, thereby significantly decreasing the possibility they would acquire the ace. In the end, the Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers were unable to acquire Santana and it was the dark-horse Mets who acquired Santana for Deolis Guerra, Carlos Gomez, Philip Humber, and Kevin Mulvey.
The Mets, fresh off one of the largest collapses in baseball history (at that point, possibly only eclipsed by the 2004 Yankees in the ALCS and the 1964 Phillies), needed to acquire another arm and make a splash. Without giving up their top prospect, Fernando Martinez (#20 in Baseball America), the Mets were able to acquire one of the best pitchers in the game. In the deal, the Mets paid a high price, as Deolis Guerra (#35 in Baseball America) was fresh off a season in High A St. Lucie as an 18-year old, an age most people are finishing up High School, Carlos Gomez (#52 in Baseball America, after being #60 in the previous year) showed significant upside in his brief trial with the Mets, Humber struggled in AAA after being the #3 overall pick in 2004, and Mulvey showed a lot of promise in AA after being a second round pick in 2006. In short, while the Mets did not give up their top prospect, they gave up a lot of talent to acquire Santana.
In 2008, Santana did not disappoint. Leading the National League with 34 starts, 234.1 innings, and 964 batters faced, Santana put up a 2.53 ERA and capped the season with one of his best starts of the season in the 161st game of the season, a sparkling 117-pitch complete game shutout, allowing three hits and walking three more, striking out nine against the Florida Marlins. Unfortunately, the Mets struggled to complete the season yet again, missing out on the playoffs in the final day. After the season, Santana had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee.
In 2009, Santana pitched well, putting up a 3.13 ERA across 25 starts before being shut down in late August due to bone chips in his throwing shoulder after the Mets fell out of contention. Santana would return in 2010, putting up a 2.98 ERA in 29 starts across 199 innings before being shut down in September due to an Anterior Capsule Tear. A capsule is a soft tissue envelope that helps to attach to the scapula, humerus, and the head of the bicep. Due to this injury, Santana missed nearly the entire 2011 season, only making two appearances at High A St. Lucie.
In 2012, Santana returned with a vengeance, striking out 68 in 68 innings, and leading the National League with 11 starts and two complete game shutouts, including the no hitter on June 1, the first in Mets history – 8,020 games.
After the game, Santana addressed the Mets, saying, “[t]onight we all made history, that’s all that matters. I give it to you guys, because you guys made it happen.” Santana’s game was amazing for a number of reasons, it was the first time he had fewer than three hits in a complete game and the most pitches he ever threw in one game, with his 134 pitches amounting to nine more than he had ever thrown in a professional baseball game.
By sheer coincidence (or was it?), the next day I attended a Baseball Prospectus event at CitiField where I, along with a number of other baseball fans, had the opportunity to hear a number of baseball writers including Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks and Ben Lindbergh; BP and SI.com’s Jay Jaffe; and MLB.com’s Corey Schwartz. Additionally, there was a 30-minute question and answer session with Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson. Alderson opened by discussing Santana’s outing, discussing Manager Terry Collins’ decision to allow Santana to throw 134 pitches despite only recently coming back from shoulder surgery. Alderson, while showing a clear preference for not allowing Santana to throw 134 pitches, commented that “probabilities, mathematics take a back seat to emotion,” showing his support for Collins’ decision.
In the end, Santana’s no hitter, the first in Mets’ history, was something that he will remember for years and so will a great a number of Mets, former teammates, and sports fans. But the best comment is from Johan Santana himself:
Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.
When the Angels placed Bobby Abreu on waivers on April 27, I wondered if this would be the end of the line for one the most successful players in baseball history. Fortunately, or unfortunately if you watched Abreu leave three runners on base in two at bats on May 4, the Dodgers picked him up and immediately placed him on their major league roster.
In the interest of full disclosure, Bobby Abreu has always fascinated me. He never really looked like a great athlete (though he clearly is in great shape), he never looked like he was trying, and he never put up monster numbers, but at the end of nearly every season for 13 years he ended up with at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases. He drove in at least 100 eight times, scored 100 another eight, and went 30/30 twice. He was a great right fielder, but was notoriously allergic to walls, and stole bases whenever the pitcher was not paying enough attention. In the end, Bobby Abreu was a truly singular baseball player whose talents were never fully appreciated – unless you were playing fantasy baseball.
Bob Kelly Abreu was signed by the Houston Astros as an international free agent out of Venezuela in August 1990, just months after his 16th birthday. Assigned to the GCL Astros of the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League, Abreu put up an amazing 301/358/372 line. While that line may not look amazing at first blush, had Abreu been born in the U.S., Puerto Rico, or Canada, Abreu would be about to start his senior year of High School, not playing professional baseball. In 1992, Abreu was assigned to the Astros’ full season A Level Southern Atlantic League affiliate, the Asheville Tourists. Abreu more than held his own, putting up a 292/375/402 line as the third youngest player in the Southern Atlantic League. Tough Abreu only hit eight home runs in 549 plate appearances, he displayed a mature approach by walking 63 times and hit 21 doubles. Baseball America took notice after the season, ranking Abreu the #95 prospect in all of baseball despite being 18 and having just completed his first full season of professional baseball.
In 1993, Abreu was sent to the High A Osceola Astros of the Florida State League where he put up a 283/352/430 line across 530 plate appearances. Abreu’s line for 1993 is, to say the least, fascinating. He hit 21 doubles, 17 triples (which lead the FSL, but the home park may have been a factor, as Abreu was one of six Oscola Astros who had at least six triples), and five home runs (down from eight in 1992). Abreu stole 10 bases, but was thrown out 14 times. Abreu walked 51 times (17th in the FSL out of 100 players with at least 149 PA), but struck out 90 times (tied for 9th most). Abreu was still viewed as a top prospect, but was not ranked by Baseball America in their top 100.
In 1994, Abreu broke out – putting up a great 303/368/530 line across 451 plate appearances for the Jackson Generals of the AA Texas League. Though his walks further decreased to 42, Abreu hit 25 doubles, 9 triples, and 16 home runs – finally appearing to realize his power potential. Abreu’s stock as a prospect was spiking, as Baseball America rated him the #52 prospect in baseball.
In 1995, Abreu spent the entire year playing for the Tucson Toros of the AAA Pacific Coast League, putting up a solid, if not spectacular, 304/395/516 line while hitting 24 doubles, 17 triples, and 10 home runs. He still got caught stealing too much (14 in 30 attempts), but there was significant offensive growth and actualization. Baseball America rated Abreu the #29 prospect in all of baseball (and immediately ahead of Jermaine Dye) with many prospect prognosticators praising his plate approach and defense, along with his power potential.
Despite the Astros’ mediocre outfield in 1996 (Brian Hunter, Derek Bell, and James Mouton had the most plate appearances, with significant playing time from Derrick May and John Cangelosi), Abreu returned to Tucson for another season in AAA. Abreu put up a 283/389/459 line, showing improved plate discipline (83 walks in 573 plate appearances) and a better approach to base running (24 stolen bases in 42 attempts), with 14 doubles, 16 triples, and 13 home runs. Abreu was called up to the Astros in September, putting up a 227/292/273 line across 24 PA. While the overall line does not look good, it is important to note that, at 22 years old, Abreu was one of the youngest players in the major leagues and, more importantly, 24 PA is such a tiny sample size that it is statistically insignificant. Unconcerned with the poor big league showing, Baseball America rated Abreu the #38 prospect in all of baseball after 1996, behind Eli Marrero.
In 1997, Abreu began the season with the Astros, appearing in 20 out of the Astros’ first 26 games, putting up a 271/386/457 line while primarily playing right field. Abreu struggled in May, and went on the disabled list on May 25 with a fractured right hand. Abreu was on the disabled list until July 3, when he returned to the Astros for almost two weeks, putting just seven plate appearances across five games. Abreu was sent down to the minors, where he put up a combined 262/329/379 in AA and AAA (the AA portion appears to be part of his rehab, but I cannot find game logs to confirm this). Abreu returned to the Astros on September 1, putting up a 294/333/471 line over 14 games to close out the season to finish with a 250/329/372 line at the major league level. All told, 1997 was not a successful year for Abreu. Despite spending most of the 1997 season with the Astros, he had not performed particularly well and missed significant time with an injury.
On November 18, 1997, Major League Baseball held an expansion draft in order to put major league players on the rosters of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Arizona Diamondbacks. Each team was allowed to protect a number of players, and the Astros decided to protect Richard Hidalgo instead of Abreu. With the 6th overall pick, the Devil Rays selected Abreu and, immediately after the draft, traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies for Kevin Stocker. The Devil Rays GM, Chuck LaMar, wanted Stocker, who was known for his strong defense and complete lack of offensive ability, and was willing to give up the soon-to-be 24 year old Abreu for the soon-to-be 28 year old Stocker. The Phillies’ GM, Ed Wade, should be commended for this move. Though the 1998 Phillies would have to use Desi Relaford as their shortstop, Abreu would hit from day one (literally, he went 2/6 on Opening Day against the Mets) for the Phillies.
In 1998, Abreu put up an impressive 312/409/497 line (with 14 intentional walks), beginning his long and successful career. Abreu has put up an OPS+ of at least 104 in every season from 1998 through 2011, but has struggled so far in 2012. Playing without a position for the Angels, Abreu put up a 208/259/333 line in eight games before being released. The Dodgers picked up Abreu, with formerly-mustachioed Manager Don Mattingly stating that Abreu “gives [the Dodgers] a chance to be a little bit better.”
In the end, Bobby Abreu pretty much turned out to be the player he was projected to become, with a career 293/396/480 slash line (129 OPS+), with 284 home runs, 393 stolen bases, 2390 hits, 1414 runs, and 1330 RBI. Abreu’s ability to hit line drives and patience at the plate have been his calling card, racking up 558 doubles in his career, good for 25th all time and 2nd amongst active players (only 3 behind Todd Helton).
So is this the end for Abreu? At this point, Abreu has become a “lefty bat off the bench” who can occasionally play the outfield. While he has put up great career numbers, he lacks the “wow” factor that voters often require when voting someone into the Hall of Fame, and he was only elected to two All Star Games, awarded one Silver Slugger, and awarded one Gold Glove. This lack of awards, despite winning the 2005 Home Run Derby, will doom Abreu to being part of the Hall of Very Good – which is quite an accomplishment. Abreu is currently 98th with 9,703 career plate appearances – a place surrounded by Hall of Famers and legends, such as Ted Simmons (100), Willie McCovey (99), Julio Franco (97), and Richie Ashburn (96).
How will Abreu be remembered? As a very good player who put together a long, successful career in baseball and the fact that he has made in excess of $115 million in his career while flying under the radar.
Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.
This afternoon, news came out that Michael Pineda was diagnosed with an anterior labral tear and will miss the entire season surgery on Tuesday, May 1 at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. Pineda, who turned 23 in January, has come a long way since signing with the Seattle Mariners out of the Dominican Republic back in 2005.
Signed on December 12, 2005 for a paltry $35,000, Pineda made his professional debut in 2006 in the Dominican Summer League with the DSL Mariners, putting up a 0.44 ERA over eight games (three starts), striking out 14 batters in 20.1 innings. In 2007, Pineda was still unable to get a visa, and again pitched for the DSL Mariners, putting up a 2.29 ERA across 59 inings with 48 strike outs. Finally able to pitch in the U.S. in 2008, Pineda dominated in for the A level Wisconsin Timber Rattlers of the Midwest Leaue, putting up a 1.95 ERA across 138.1 innings with 128 strike outs. Pineda started 21 games and relieved in five games in an attempt to decrease his workload, finishing the season with a dominating performance against the Quad Cities River Bandits, the St. Louis Cardinals Midwest League affiliate, with 14 strike outs, no walks, and only one hit in a complete game shutout.
Moved up to the High A California League High Desert Mavericks to start 2009, Pineda pitched well to start the season, but quickly encountered arm trouble. After going 5, 6.1, 7, and 7.1 innings to start the season, Pineda was placed on the Minor League Disabled List for 15 days due to elbow soreness. Activated on May 12, Pineda’s innings were limited, going 2 and 3 innings in his next two appearances before re-aggravating the injury and going on the Minor League Disabled List for approximately three months, only returning to the Rookie Level AZL Mariners for a 1 and 2 inning appearance in early August. After being cleared, Pineda was returned to High Desert, where he pitched 13.2 innings over four starts, allowing four runs (three earned), while striking out 22.
In 2010, Pineda was assigned to the AA West Tenn Diamond Jaxx of the Southern League, where he absolutely dominated opponents. Across 77 innings over 13 starts, Pineda struck out 78 and allowed only 67 hits. The Mariners took notice and promoted him to the AAA Tacoma Rainiers of the Pacific Coast Leauge, where Pineda kept doing well. Pineda struck out 76 in 62.1 innings with a 4.76 ERA. Pineda, pitching a career high 139.1 innings, clearly tired. In his last two starts, Pineda went 4.1 and 3.2 innings, allowing four and six runs (all earned), with eight hits in both. Pineda’s numbers should also be adjusted to consider that he was in the hitter-friendly environment of the PCL.
After 2010, prospect prognosticators took notice and rated Pineda accordingly. Baseball America ranked Pineda #16 overall (between Matt Moore and Freddie Freeman), Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein ranked Pineda #24 (between Jacob Turner and Dustin Ackley), and MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo ranked Pineda #13 (between Kyle Drabek and Mike Montgomery).
Pineda opened the 2011 season as the #5 starter for the Seattle Mariners, immediately showing why he was considered a top prospect. After a six-inning effort on July 4, Pineda had a 2.58 ERA over 108 innings across 1 starts with 106 strike outs and a sparkling .564 OPS-against. Pineda struggled in his next six starts, putting up a 7.64 ERA over 33 innings until mid-August. From August 21 through the rest of the season, Pineda seemed to pitch well, with a 3.60 ERA over five starts across 30 innings. Overall, Pineda pitched very well, putting up a 3.74 ERA (103 ERA+) across 171 innings in his age-22 season, coming in fifth in the Rookie of the Year vote in a very stacked year.
The big trade of the 2012 off season occurred on January 23 when the Mariners dealt Pineda with prospect Jose Campos to the Yankees for ultra-prospect Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi.
But there was also this: scouts behind home plate had Pineda’s velocity at mostly 90-92.
When Pineda dominated in the first half of last year, he threw his fastball in the mid-90s. Last spring, at this time, Pineda was throwing 95-98 and his changeup was at 88.
In his next start, Pineda silenced critics and hit 94 on the radar gun, as the Yankees’ General Manager, Brian Cashman, said that Pineda is 20 pounds overweight. After the game, Pineda told Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News: “I know I can throw harder, but it’s getting better. My arm feels good.” On the eve of the season, Pineda is put on the 15-day Disabled List with shoulder inflammation and tendinitis, which is never a good omen. Then, just today, the bombshell hit: Pineda will undergo surgery next Tuesday to repair an anterior labral tear, which will keep him out for the entire 2012 season, and possibly part of 2013.
What will happen to Pineda from here? Surgery then rehabilitation is for sure, how well his “stuff” comes back is another story altogether. While many pitchers have come back from elbow surgery (such as ulnar collateral ligament surgery, more commonly known as Tommy John surgery) with flying colors, such as Stephen Strasburg and, well, Tommy John, shoulder surgeries, especially ones on the labrum, have a less successful track record. As State’s Will Carroll wrote:
Leading baseball surgeon Dr. James Andrews estimates that 85 percent of pitchers make a full recovery after an ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, aka the once risky Tommy John surgery. (USA Today has even called the surgery the “pitcher’s best friend.”) But if pitchers with torn labrums were horses, they’d be destroyed. Of the 36 major-league hurlers diagnosed with labrum tears in the last five years, only midlevel reliever Rocky Biddle has returned to his previous level. Think about that when your favorite pitcher comes down with labrum trouble: He has a 3 percent chance of becoming Rocky Biddle. More likely, he’ll turn into Mike Harkey, Robert Person, or Jim Parque, pitchers who lost stamina and velocity—and a major-league career—when their labrums began to fray.
So what can we expect? It’s entirely possible that this may be the end of the career of Michael Pineda, which would be unfortunate for every baseball fan, as Pineda’s talent is worth the price of admission. But Pineda may return, and he may return to form, but only time will tell.
So does this mean that the Mariners won the trade? It probably does. While the Yankees may end up striking gold with Jose Campos, Jesus Montero was a lot to give up for a 19-year old pitcher in A-ball. In the end, we will need five years to evaluate the trade, but early returns give the Mariners a big advantage. And remember, TNSTAAPP.
Update: Curt Schilling has said that he thinks Pineda “can be back better than he has ever been in 10 months. Maybe less, because he is younger. It is going to be 100 percent on him.” Mark Mulder, who had a labral tear and a rotator cuff injury never felt the same after coming back from surgery.
On the other hand, five pitchers (Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Al Leiter, Chris Carpenter, and Gil Meche) threw more than 1,000 innings following the surgery, and another six (Scott Elarton, Jason Isringhausen, Ted Lilly, Jon Rauch, Anibal Sanchez, and Jose Valverde) have topped 400 innings.
So it appears that there is significant precedent for a successful return for Pineda – but not one without risk.
Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.
A lot of people talk about the time they saw a band before they were big; a restaurant before it was in Zagat; a new sweater before it became ubiquitous. Me? I like to talk about the time I saw the Next Big Thing in AA before he got in a fight and threw away his career. It was the summer of 1993 and I saw Brien Taylor throw a baseball harder than any other human I had ever seen before.
After a dominant High School career (213 strike outs in and 23 walks in 88 innings as a senior at East Carteret High School in North Carolina), Brien Taylor was taken by the New York Yankees with the first pick of the 1991 Major League Baseball Rule IV Draft in June 1991. The Yankees quickly offered $300,000 to sign a minor league contract. With Scott Boras advising, Taylor demanded a signing bonus comparable to what was received by Todd Van Poppel, the top high school pitcher in the 1990 draft and another Boras client, received, namely $1.2 million over three years. In order to increase leverage, Taylor signed up for classes at Louisburg College, a junior college in nearby Louisburg, North Carolina. The stage was set – if Taylor attended a single class at Louisburg College, he could not sign until after the end of the school year, meaning the Yankees would risk losing him to another team in the 1992 draft if they did not sign him quickly.
This is where the story must pause to fully appreciate the tension, as the Yankees were in a unique situation. Their owner, George M. Steinbrenner was suspended for hiring Howie Spira, a professional gambler (if not more), to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield. As a result, Steinbrenner was unable to engage in the day-to-day management of the Yankees and, as a result, he was unable to just spend the money to sign Taylor. Despite this suspension (worded as an “Agreement” but was in effect a suspension), Steinbrenner let it be known that if the Yankees did not sign Taylor, someone would be “shot.” Unsurprisingly, the Yankees reached an agreement with Taylor the day before classes were set to begin for a then-record $1.55 million.
Despite signing too late to get into any games, the accolades and expectations for Taylor began prior to the 1992 season, with Baseball America ranking him the #1 prospect in baseball. The Yankees assigned Taylor to the Fort Lauderdale Yankees of the High-A Florida State League, bypassing the Rookie, Short Season A, and Full Season A affiliates entirely. Taylor did not disappoint. Showcasing his mid-90s fastball along with his work-in-progress curveball and changeup, Taylor posted a sparkling 2.57 ERA while striking out 187 batters in 161.1 innings despite being the fifth youngest pitcher in the league. For 1993, Taylor was ranked the #2 prospect in baseball (Chipper Jones, the first overall pick in the 1990 draft, had passed Taylor by then) and assigned to the Yankees AA affiliate, the Albany-Colonie Yankees. Playing at Heritage Park in Colonie, New York, Taylor led the team with 150 strike outs in 163 innings to go with his 3.48 ERA.
That summer I had the distinct pleasure of seeing the Albany-Colonie Yankees play a number of games and once, just once, I saw a 6’3” lefty named Brien Taylor throw a baseball impossibly hard with incredible ease. I had been to a number of Major League Games but never sat close enough to fully appreciate how hard the pitchers threw and the vast majority of AA pitchers lacked mid-90s fastballs, so watching Taylor frighten opponents (he also led the Eastern League with 102 walks, placed 7th with 8 hit batsmen, and placed 2nd with 12 wild pitches) was as much unmitigated joy as a baseball-crazy 10 year old could achieve. I remember two specific things from seeing Taylor pitch: the resonating pop of the ball hitting the catcher’s mitt and the fact that when we came to the park, they gave away “K” signs to hold up. I had never seen such a thing at a minor league park, with such actions being reserved for the elite strikeout pitchers at the Major League Level – the declining Dwight Gooden and the emerging Randy Johnson. I knew this was different and I was seeing something truly special. In my presence, only two pitchers have been able to reproduce the resonating pop of the catcher’s mitt in the nearly two decades since I saw Taylor: Randy Johnson (in his May 30, 1999 domination against the Mets) and John Wetteland (in his August 9, 1995 relief appearance against the Baltimore Orioles).
That winter Brien Taylor was expected to be Baseball America’s top prospect, as he would spend 1995 with the Yankees’ AAA affiliate, the Columbus Clippers, on his way to the majors either later in 1995 or in 1996. That winter, Taylor’s brother, Brenden, got into a fight with a man named Ron Wilson in Harlowe, North Carlona and suffered head lacerations in the altercation. Once Taylor found out his brother had been hurt, he and his cousin went to Wilson’s home. An altercation ensued between the three men and Jamie Morris, a friend of Wilson. While there are varying accounts as to how Taylor hurt his shoulder (an attempted haymaker – thereby breaking Crash Davis’s rules of fighting – or Taylor falling on his shoulder during the fracas). The details don’t matter: Taylor dislocated his left shoulder and tore the labrum in that shoulder. Initially, Scott Boras, Taylor’s agent reported that it was merely a bruise. Dr. Frank Jobe, the creator of ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction surgery (more commonly known as Tommy John surgery), repaired a torn capsule and a torn labrum. The surgery went well, but Taylor never regained his fastball. Taylor missed the entire 1994 season and appeared in only 46 games, logging 111.1 innings with an ERA in excess of 11.
Brien Taylor, the ultra hyped future ace became a Post Hype Prospect due to a poor decision and the fickle nature of the human shoulder. What ever became of Taylor? After being the subject of a number of “Where Are They Now?” interviews, he’s worked as a UPS package handler, a beer distributor, and a bricklayer. But he’s had his share of problems: in 2005 he was charged with misdemeanor child abuse for leaving four of his five daughters alone for more than eight hours and last month he was arrested for selling crack and cocaine to undercover narcotics agents over a period of several months.
Thanks for reading – more to come! Follow me @HypeProspect!
Wayne Coffey, Tracking Down Brien Taylor, New York Daily News, July 14, 2006.
Jeff Passan, The arm that changed the MLB draft, Yahoo! Sports, http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/news?slug=jp-taylor060506.
Man charged with cocaine trafficking, http://www.jdnews.com/articles/charged-101213-cocaine-trafficking.html.