Brien Taylor: From can't-miss MLB prospect to federal drug suspect

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As Major League Baseball's best gather for Tuesday's All-Star game, a man who once clocked a 100 mph fastball and had a future as bright as the lights above Nationals Park now looks ahead to a likely prison stint — and looking back at a cursed career that ended before it began.

Twenty-one years ago, Brien McKeiver Taylor was the first player picked in the Major League Baseball draft, a surefire future All-Star and left-hander who received a then-record $1.55 million signing bonus from the New York Yankees. He was picked ahead of future superstars like Manny Ramirez and Nomar Garciaparra and appeared destined for stardom in the Bronx. It was just a matter of time.

“Velocity-wise, at the time, he was unmatched, especially from the left side,” Lyle Mouton, a former outfielder for the Chicago White Sox who played with Taylor in the Yankees minor league system, told “He had the ability to touch 100 [mph] at times. It’s sad to say, but he never had the opportunity to show how gifted he was. If he had, he might’ve gone down in history as a top pitcher.”

"It’s sad to say, but he never had the opportunity to show how gifted he was. If he had, he might’ve gone down in history as a top pitcher.”

— Lyle Mouton, former MLB outfielder

At minor league stops in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Albany, N.Y., Taylor played with some of the men who would become cornerstones of the Yankees’dynasty in the late '90s and early 2000s, including pitcher Mariano Rivera and catcher Jorge Posada. But instead of becoming the team’s ace during those years, Taylor never made the big leagues. A shoulder injury suffered in a fight ruined his million-dollar arm after just two promising seasons in the minor leagues. The seven-figure bonus, once seen as a mere taste of things to come, dried up.

Taylor drifted home to Beaufort, N.C., living in the home he’d bought for his parents with that hefty signing bonus on Brien Taylor Lane — the road named for him. There were brushes with the law, family problems and jobs that barely paid the bills. It was a long fall for a man who once had it all, supposedly the Yankees’ version of Dwight Gooden. And it just got worse.

Taylor, now 40, was indicted last month in federal court on three counts of distributing crack cocaine and is now being held in federal custody. He was arrested in March for allegedly selling large quantities of cocaine and crack cocaine to an undercover narcotics agent over a span of several months.

Halerie Mahan, Taylor’s court-appointed attorney, declined to comment when reached by Attempts to reach Taylor’s relatives were not successful.

Twenty years ago, Taylor was a “big kid right out of high school” who put fear into opposing batters, blowing batters away with heat or buckling their knees with a spectacular curveball, according to Gordon Sanchez, a catcher who played with Taylor in the minor leagues.

“He was a big kid right out of high school who came in throwing 98 consistently, and he would hit 100 or 101 occasionally,” Sanchez said. “He was the next sure thing.”

Sanchez, who now works as an insurance agent in San Diego, said he remembers Taylor as the “quiet guy who didn’t walk around like he was the next big thing.” In Single-A ball in Fort Lauderdale in 1992, then at Double A in Albany, N.Y. the next year, fans packed the ballpark to catch a glimpse of a southpaw ticketed for the big leagues.

But all that changed on Dec. 18, 1993. While defending his older brother Brenden in a fistfight, the typically mild-mannered 6-foot-4 Taylor fell on his shoulder, suffering a torn capsule and torn labrum. Dr. Frank Jobe, the surgeon who helped pioneer Tommy John surgery, later called it one of the worst injuries he had ever seen.

Back in his hometown, Beaufort's onetime favorite son has delivered one disappointment after another.

“Unfortunately, he got hurt defending his brother and threw his career away, and apparently with that, his life,” Beaufort Mayor Richard Stanley told “It’s extremely regretful; we're all saddened by what a mess he made of his life. You see what promise he had and what a future, and how young people, talented young people can destroy their ability to use their God-given talent. It’s totally unfortunate.”

Stanley had such faith that Taylor would eventually become a household name that, while a senior at East Carteret High School, he had the “super talent” personally sign a baseball for him.

“I thought his career was going to skyrocket,” Stanley said. “I think I still have it.”

Following the injury, Taylor was simply never the same. His fastball lost most of its giddy-up — now topping out in the low 90s — and could no longer throw the curve for a strike. By 2000, at age 28, then with the Cleveland Indians, Taylor’s career was over before it ever really began.

Taylor would later go on to reportedly work briefly as a UPS handler, and later at a beer distributor before moving back home to work with his father as a bricklayer, earning $909 per month, according to financial records filed in a child support application. In early 2005, Taylor was charged with misdemeanor child abuse for allegedly leaving four of his children — ages 2 to 11 — alone for more than eight hours.

Taylor’s next brush with law enforcement would be much more serious. Beginning on Oct. 19, 2011, Taylor allegedly “knowingly and intentionally” distributed an ounce or more of crack cocaine, according to an indictment filed in the Eastern District of North Carolina. He remains in the custody of U.S. Marshals and will likely be arraigned sometime in August, sources close to the matter told If he watches tonight's game and thinks of what might have been, it will be from behind bars.

“He was in the limelight everywhere we went,” Sanchez recalls of his time in the minor leagues with Taylor. “And guys who do fall out of the spotlight sometimes don’t know what to do with themselves.”