Entering the 2011 MLB Draft, no one in baseball doubted Taylor Guerrieri‘s stuff. His fastball touched the mid-90’s with great sink and Guerrieri did a great job commanding it down in the zone. His curveball between the high-70’s and low-80’s featured hard, dynamic break to give him two pitches with a clear chance to be plus right off the bat. Pair them with a changeup and cutter that both showed flashes in limited use, and Guerrieri had the potential to be a topflight major league starting pitcher. However, what concerned teams wasn’t his arsenal–by talent alone, he was one of the top pitchers in the draft–but real or perceived attitude problems.
In October of his senior year, Guerrieri transferred high schools, moving from North Augusta High School to Spring Valley High School. It was a sudden move and it was shocking that he would transfer that late in high school. The family claimed that Guerrieri transferred because he had a good relationship with Spring Valley’s assistant coach, but he was going to be a high pick the draft no matter what and multiple reports have alluded to something happening, albeit something that no one who knows is willing to discuss. Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison described the makeup concerns as “blown out of proportion” and the fact that the Rays were willing to select him as highly as he was tells you that whatever Guerrieri could not have been that bad. But from the moment Guerrieri entered pro ball, he faced intense scrutiny. How has Guerrieri responded? He has shifted the focus right back to his play on the field, dominating to the tune of a 1.37 ERA and a 70-11 strikeout to walk ratio in his first 18 pro starts and 79 innings pitched. And whatever maturity issues Guerrieri was supposed to have, they have not manifested themselves a single time.
Since the moment he joined the Rays organization, Guerrieri has not gotten into any trouble off the field and has been a fine teammate. One thing that has become apparent, though, is that his attitude towards his play is quite interesting. On Sunday, Guerrieri tossed five 1-hit innings, striking out 10 while walking 2, earning the win in Low-A Bowling Green’s 8-0 victory. After even such a great start, though, he didn’t seem very happy.
“I struggled in the beginning, with two walks in the first two innings. After that I tried to stay mentally strong and it worked out for me. I’m fine with my outing. The defense played well for me. The offense really hit well for me. It’s hard to lose when you put eight runs on the board.”
Instead of the cliche response, saying that “I felt good out there and just all my pitches working,” Guerrieri was annoyed at himself for the two early walks and only described his outing as “fine.” He was cynical and sarcastic throughout his comments even after a game that many pitchers can only dream of having. Why was Guerrieri so pessimistic after a great outing?
One thing to note is that walks are Guerrieri’s biggest pet peeve. His goal in his pro debut was to not walk a single batter and walks have always been something that infuriate him. But is Guerrieri really getting mad just because of a couple of walks? Really, there’s something bigger going on here: Taylor Guerrieri just refuses to be satisfied by anything less than perfection. One outing means nothing to Guerrieri–it’s all about the big picture. The only thing he cares about is being the best pitcher he possibly can be moving forward, and in his mind, he needs to eliminate walks from his game in order to accomplish that. Taylor Guerrieri’s talent gives him a chance to be one of the best pitchers in baseball someday. However, it’s the edge in his personality, that driving passion to become the best he can possibly be, that gives him an even better chance of getting there.
In his senior year of high school, maybe something happened or maybe it didn’t. But when you think about it, Guerrieri transferring schools at such a bizarre time simply because he knew an assistant coach isn’t so crazy and is in fact right in line with his personality. If Guerrieri believed that changing schools would help his development even to the slightest extent, he was going to do it, no matter if outsiders thought he was immature for doing so. In any case, Guerrieri’s so-called attitude problem is gone if it ever really existed and we can see now that the pre-draft chatter rubbed everyone the wrong way about his mind-set. Instead of being an anchor holding his career back, Guerrieri’s attitude is what is going to lead him as far he can go. He won’t settle for anything less.