At one point, Brien Taylor had the world by the tail. Taken as the No. 1 overall pick in the 1991 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, Taylor received a then-record $1.55 million bonus.
The sky was supposed to be the limit.
But the fairy tale turned into a nightmare quickly for Taylor. A 19-year-old with a once-in-a-generation fastball, Taylor never threw a pitch in the major leagues.
Instead, after two solid years in the minor leagues, Taylor got into a fight a few days before his 22nd birthday in 1993. Taylor threw a punch that didn't connect, according to FanGraphs.com. His agent, Scott Boras, said the injury was a bruise.
But what Taylor had done in essence was to rip his left arm out of its socket, dislocating his shoulder and tearing his labrum and capsule. He was never the same. The 99-mph fastball was gone. He struggled to reach 90 on the radar gun. He threw 40 innings at the rookie-league level in 1994 and walked 54 batters, hit another 10 and had 16 wild pitches. From 1996-98, he threw 68.2 innings at the lowest level of the bushes with 104 walks. He was released after the 1998 season and tried a comeback in 2000 with the Cleveland Indians, a comeback that lasted 2.2 innings in Class-A.
According to Newsday, Taylor was sentenced earlier this month to 38 months in prison after he pleaded guilty in August to distributing crack cocaine.
Baseball Prospects Never Easy to Gauge
In football and basketball, being drafted No. 1 overall is usually a passport to stardom and, for some, immortality.
In baseball, it is often a road to ignominy.
Baseball began its amateur draft in 1965. Using the sites of sports-reference.com, a comparison of how baseball's No. 1 overall picks have compared to those in the National Football League and National Basketball Association reveals some interesting contrasts.
The NFL and its one-time rival, the American Football League, began conducting a common draft in 1966 as part of the lead-up to the eventual merger of the leagues in 1970. Since 1966, eight players taken with the top pick in the NFL draft ended up being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Those eight (along with their drafting team and year) include Ron Yary (Minnesota Vikings, 1968); O.J. Simpson (Buffalo Bills, 1969); Terry Bradshaw (Pittsburgh Steelers, 1970), Lee Roy Selmon (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1976); Earl Campbell (Houston Oilers, 1978); John Elway (Baltimore Colts, 1983); Bruce Smith (Buffalo Bills, 1985); and Troy Aikman (Dallas Cowboys, 1989).
Similarly, the NBA has had a lot of its legendary players come out of the top spot in the draft since the mid-1960s.
Those would include Elvin Hayes (San Diego Rockets, 1968); Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Milwaukee Bucks, 1969); Bob Lanier (Detroit Pistons, 1970); Magic Johnson (Los Angeles Lakers, 1979); James Worthy (Los Angeles Lakers, 1982); Hakeem Olajuwon (Houston Rockets, 1984); Patrick Ewing (New York Knicks, 1985); David Robinson (San Antonio Spurs, 1987); Shaquille O'Neal (Orlando Magic, 1992); and Allen Iverson (Philadelphia 76ers, 1996).
Top current players taken first overall include Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs, 1997); LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers, 2003); Dwight Howard (Orlando Magic, 2004); Derrick Rose (Chicago Bulls, 2008); and Blake Griffin (Los Angeles Clippers, 2009).
So what about baseball's place on this list? How many Hall of Famers and all-time greats were taken No. 1 overall?
The Hall of Fame count would be none. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada.
In fairness, there were three former No. 1 overall selections who will likely, at some point, be enshrined in Cooperstown: Ken Griffey Jr. (Seattle Mariners, 1987); Chipper Jones (Atlanta Braves, 1990); and Alex Rodriguez (Seattle Mariners, 1993).
Busts in All Sports, But Baseball Leads the Way
Football and basketball have had some top overall picks not work out, either because of injury, bad luck or fatally flawed talent evaluations.
Some of the more notable choices in the NFL draft that went awry include Walt Patulski (Buffalo Bills, 1972); Aundray Bruce (Atlanta Falcons, 1988); Jeff George (Indianapolis Colts, 1990); Steve Emtman (Indianapolis Colts, 1992); Ki-Jana Carter (Cincinnati Bengals, 1995); Tim Couch (Cleveland Browns, 1999); Courtney Brown (Cleveland Browns, 2000); David Carr (Houston Texans, 2002); and, the mother of all bad No. 1 overall picks in NFL history, JaMarcus Russell (Oakland Raiders, 2007).
Not everything came up roses for top overall NBA picks, either. The careers of this group were remarkably unremarkable. Those players were Fred Hetzel (San Francisco Warriors, 1965); LaRue Martin (Portland Trail Blazers, 1982); Kent Benson (Milwaukee Bucks, 1977); Joe Barry Carroll (Golden State Warriors, 1980); Pervis Ellison (Sacramento Kings, 1989); Michael Olowokandi (Los Angeles Clippers, 1998); Kwame Brown (Washington Wizards, 2001); and Greg Oden (Portland Trail Blazers, 2007).
Because baseball has a minor-league system, however, there are a handful of No. 1 overall picks that never reached the major leagues.
Those would include Steve Chilcott (New York Mets, 1966); Taylor; and Matt Bush (San Diego Padres, 2004).
A trio of more recent top picks, Tim Beckham (Tampa Bay Rays, 2008); Gerrit Cole (Pittsburgh Pirates, 2011); and Carlos Correa (Houston Astros, 2012) have yet to reach the big leagues.
But the list of No. 1 overall picks in baseball is also dotted with players who never came close to living up to their potential, even if they did reach the show.
This list isn't exactly a rogue's gallery but it's not exactly an All-Star roster, either. It includes players such as Ron Blomberg, Mike Ivie, Danny Goodwin (who was selected No. 1 overall not once but twice, in 1971 and 1975), Dave Roberts, David Clyde, Bill Almon, Al Chambers, Shawn Abner, Paul Wilson, Kris Benson, Matt Anderson, Bryan Bullington and Luke Hochevar.
What Makes Baseball Different?
Baseball players, at least position players, are evaluated in five key areas: Running speed, arm strength, hitting for average, hitting for power and fielding.
However, if you had 10 different scouts look at the same player, the odds are good those evaluation scores would vary widely.
Speed is the only one of those categories for which there is no ambiguity; a guy's either fast or he's not.
But the other four categories can vary greatly depending on factors such as level of competition. A player may look like a great hitter, the next Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron, against some competition but when that level of play steps up, the kid might not be able to make the adjustments necessary to compete.
Football players play football. Basketball players play basketball. The components of the game don't really change across different levels of those sports.
But baseball players have a major transitional hurdle to overcome when moving from amateur to professional baseball. Gone are aluminum bats. In their place are their wooden counterparts and anyone who has ever attempted to hit with both will know what a huge difference there is.
Suddenly, pitches that were once driven to the gaps with power or belted over the wall are broken-bat dribblers and pop-ups. Some players are able to overcome the change. Others never quite master it.
And then there are pitchers.
Gary Huckabay, a writer with Baseball Prospectus, is credited with coining the phrase "There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect," often used in its acronym form, "TINSTAAP."
As Huckabay explains it, the term actually has a double meaning.
The first, more commonly cited usage, is explained by Huckabay.
"It means that pitchers get hurt at approximately the same rate that methheads swipe identities and lose teeth," Huckabay wrote. "That's what all pitchers do, not just prospects."
The second, more subtle, point is that if there is a pitcher who is absolutely dominating in the minor leagues, they're not prospects-they are pitchers.
Talent evaluation is always a crap shoot of sorts. But in baseball, the variables are many and the fine line between success and failure is much less defined than it can be in basketball and football.
Because sometimes, the guy you project as the ace of your pitching staff rips apart his shoulder in a brawl and is never the same again.
Phil Watson was a writer and editor at several daily newspapers for more than 20 years and is a longtime New York Yankee fan.
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