Yankees go slowly with young pitching phenom

February 23, 1992|By Jon Heyman | Jon Heyman,Newsday

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- If you want to see Brien Taylor, look fast, because he won't be here long. Taylor, New York Yankees officials promise, will be in and out of the major-league camp almost as fast as he talks and pitches.

To the disappointment of many local Yankees fans, Taylor will not pitch in a big-league game here. He might not even throw in an intrasquad game; manager Buck Showalter rated Taylor's chances to appear in the March 4 encounter as "a slim chance for one inning."

So the only certain assignment for the 20-year-old pitcher with the $1.55-million bonus in what promises to be an overhyped, overreported gig is this: Have fun. That was the message from Showalter and pitching coach Mark Connor.

"He's here for the atmosphere," Showalter said of last year's No. 1 draft choice.

Yankees officials want the pressure off Taylor, who is used to living in Beaufort, N.C., (pop. 4,000) and pitching in front of tens or hundreds, not tens of thousands of fans. "We're just trying to get him ready for the season," Showalter said. "We'll take it very slowly and make sure we're doing what's best for his development."

That apparently includes a quick shuttle to Tampa's minor-league camp, which begins March 6, and a near-certain assignment to Class A Fort Lauderdale this season. The original thought had been to send Taylor to Greensboro, N.C., since it's only three hours from his hometown. But Yankees higher-ups now figure they will be more easily able to monitor his progress here since the club's minor-league executives work across the state in Tampa.

Everybody is interested in seeing Taylor and his reputed 98-mph fastball. But Friday patrons only had a brief glimpse of him since the pitchers' fielding drills were performed on the back field in front of no fans.

Speaking about the possible outside pressures on Taylor, Connor warned, "He's a guy all eyes are going to be on."

Taylor was scheduled to throw on the side for the first time yesterday, a sideshow expected to generate the same type of interest as Steve Howe's tryouts did last year.

Taylor began Friday nervously, dropping the ball on his first drill covering first base. But, as Showalter pointed out, he didn't have to cover first much during his high school days because hardly anyone hit him.

Eventually, the baseball part will be the easiest for Taylor, whose time-management skills will be tested. Among all these veterans, Taylor still promises to be the most-interviewed performer here. With pens and cameras ready to record Taylor's initial big-league experience, Showalter said, "Throwing on the side is pressure for him, stretching is pressure, doing anything is pressure."

In his low voice but quick-speaking manner, Taylor said, "The toughest thing will be keeping my composure every day. I'm afraid to say something wrong. It takes one time saying the wrong thing to a fan, and I'm a bad guy the rest of my life."

Friday was a good start because Taylor handled himself with aplomb. Asked when he might be here for good, Taylor said, modestly, "I don't have any idea. I'm not a big-leaguer." Not yet, anyway.

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