However briefly, every player selected first in Major League Baseball’s annual June draft from 1967 to 2012 made it to the major leagues except for Brien Taylor, picked by the New York Yankees in 1991.
Taylor’s story is sad on multiple levels because he looked like he could be one of the greatest pitchers of the era when he signed for a record bonus in 1991.
Teams do sometimes miss, but many No. 1 picks succeed
The honor of being the first overall pick in MLB’s annual June draft brings both rewards and expectations. The going rate on signing bonuses hit $8 million for Gerrit Cole in 2011 and inched up to $8.1 million when the Baltimore Orioles signed Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman last summer. With three years of college ball under his belt, the expectation is that Rutschman will be in the majors by the start of the 2023 season.
Cole, Alex Rodriguez, Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, David Price, and Adrian Gonzalez are among the No. 1 picks of the past two decades to have gone on to MLB careers ranging from solid to exceptional.
It’s why the Brien Taylor story makes New York Yankees fans cringe as they think about what could have been. The team hadn’t owned the No. 1 overall pick since Ron Bloomberg in 1967 and all of a sudden it looked like a once-in-a-generation pitching prospect had fallen into their laps.
New York Yankees prospect Brien Taylor had it all
The New York Yankees were justifiable in their excitement over the prospect of taking 6-foot-3 left-hander Brien Taylor in the 1991 MLB Draft, their reward for a 67-95 record the previous season.
Taylor blew through high school competition as a senior, allowing just 18 hits and 24 walks while striking out more than 200 batters in 84 innings. Notoriously tough agent Scott Boros made unprecedented demands and finally got the Yankees to agree to a $1.55 million signing bonus at a time when no draftee had signed for as much as $600,000.
The Yankees’ faith was rewarded. Assigned to long-season Class A Fort Lauderdale in 1992, Taylor stuck out 187 batters and walked 66 in 161 innings, finishing with a 2.75 ERA. Taylor’s numbers the following summer at Class AA Albany-Colonie weren’t quite as good as he displayed a bit of wildness against better hitting but still showed promise.
And then Brien Taylor’s career ended for all practical purposes.
A barroom fight spells the end of his career
Taylor was at a bar with his brother and a friend shortly before Christmas in 1993 when a fight broke out and Taylor suffered a serious injury to the rotator cuff on his pitching arm. He underwent surgery the following week, but the damage was so substantial that Taylor was never the same.
Taylor missed all the 1994 season and then was completely ineffective over the following four years, essentially ending his career. The pitcher’s fall was complete in 2012 when Taylor was arrested on federal cocaine trafficking charges and he served three years in prison.