Dust Devils pitching coach Dave Schuler has coached in several different organizations, and he’s seen his share of talent.
Christian Friedrich, whom the Rockies chose with the 25th overall selection in the June draft, has been only the latest in a long line of hot prospects that Schuer has seen.
In 1988, Schuler, 54, was a coach on the Vermont Mariners Class AA team that included an 18-year-old outfielder named Ken Griffey Jr., and a 21-year-old shortstop named Omar Vizquel. He then spent seven years in the Yankees farm system helping develop players who would eventually reach star status, including Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and catcher Jorge Posada.
But maybe the highest-profile player he ever coached was one who never reached the majors.
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Brien Taylor was a left-handed pitcher who was chosen by the Yankees with the first pick of the 1991 amateur entry draft — ahead of Pedro Martinez (No. 10) and Manny Ramirez (No. 37). With a 98 mph fastball and a can’t-miss label, Schuler remembers a constant buzz in when Taylor, 21, reached Double-A Albany in 1993.
“It was like Jesus walking through the streets of Nazareth,” Schuler said. “We would do bullpen work and have 20 to 30 cameras around.”
He remembers Taylor having to sneak out of Heritage Park after games to avoid being detected by the throng of cameras and reporters gathered to connect with what many consider to have been the Yankees’ best pitching prospect of all time.
“He would have to jump a fence and leap into a waiting car. That kind of thing,” Schuler said. “He was a really nice kid, and he threw hard.”
Schuler recalled Taylor struggling through the first half of a 138-game season. The Yankees brass began to panic as their potential future ace held a 5-7 record.
One of Schuler’s best assets appears to be patience. He won’t hesitate to give a player room to work things out if he thinks that’s what is called for.
“(Taylor) was underneath the stands one day, and he didn’t know which way to turn. People were telling him so many things,” Schuler said. “So I decided to just leave him alone. I told him I wouldn’t even talk to him on game day.”
The strategy worked. Taylor won his next eight decisions and finished the season 13-7.
But Taylor’s career took a nasty turn after tearing the capsule and labrum in his left shoulder in a neighborhood fight after the 1993 season. After surgery to repair the damage, Taylor pitched five more seasons in the minors, but he was never the same. He was released by the Yankees in 1998, and then pitched in five games for the Class A Columbus Red Stix in the Cleveland Indians organization in 2000 before retiring.
Friedrich, another live-armed lefty, doesn’t have quite the buzz that Taylor once had, but there is definitely some upside that the Rockies should be excited about.
And he seems to be in good hands with Schuler, who won’t rush him along and will give him the benefit of his 16 years of coaching experience.