By C.J. Pentland
Canadian Baseball Network
When he stepped up to throw at University of British Columbia’s annual scout day in September, it had been a few weeks since Curtis Taylor had thrown off a mound competitively.
There were around 30 scouts in attendance, holding up radar guns to see what the young pitcher had in store.
So Taylor let it fly to show them what he had: 92 mph ... 94.
A 95 sprinkled in there for good measure.
Pitching with a bit more of an intent to throw hard, Taylor consistently popped the mitt with pitches in the low to mid-90s – yet not at the expense of his command. With the 6-foot-5 righty entering his junior season with the Thunderbirds and becoming draft eligible, the scouts quickly took notice, as roughly 16 have already talked to him.
The performance at the scouting showcase comes on the heels of a 2015-14 season during which he was named to the NAIA All-American Honourable Mention team. Pitching mostly out of the bullpen, Taylor led the ‘Birds in appearances with 24, posting a 1.02 ERA to go along with 51/16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 53 innings pitched. He limited hitters to a .153 batting average against him, allowing just five extra-base hits and recording a WHIP of 0.75. In September, he was also named to the NAIA Preseason All-America Team.
“[I] go out there and try to attack hitters – try not to pitch with much fear,” said Taylor about his pitching style. “Just go out there and do my thing and don’t worry too much about what the hitter has to offer and try and attack, attack, attack.”
In addition to his fastball, Taylor throws a hard slider with bite and is working to develop his circle change.
Since coming to UBC from the Coquitlam Reds of the BC Premier Baseball League, Taylor has continuously pushed himself to improve. The pitcher credits his dad, Wes Taylor, as a huge factor behind his success, serving as a driving force behind Taylor every day. Former T-Birds Brooks McNiven has also played a key role in his development as a pitcher.
“It’s been a huge development [at UBC],” said Taylor. “I came in here sitting 83, 84 [mph], and just every offseason in the weight room – we have a top-class program here with the strength guys – and they’ve helped me instrumentally. And then last season, I did a little bit of the dry-land weighted baseball program, and that helped in the velocity game.”
New UBC head coach Chris Pritchett is already excited about what he’s seen from his team after taking over the reins from Terry McKaig, who now serves as the program’s director. He’s especially been blown away by the players’ work ethic, which includes Taylor’s commitment to developing his change-up. Pritchett expects Taylor to be a key part of UBC’s starting rotation this year, as he joins a veteran crew that includes 2015 San Diego draft pick Alex Webb (Surrey, BC) and senior Jeremy Newton (Toronto, Ont.) both of whom logged over 87 innings last year.
The excitement also stems over to the advancements that the T-Bird program have taken as of late. A new state-of-the-art baseball training facility opened in September, which significantly enhances offseason training capabilities, and come the end of the 2017 season the field will be flipped and stadium seating will be added. UBC already stood out as a popular post-secondary baseball option, but Pritchett says that the new additions send an even stronger message that kids should come to Vancouver.
Yet the focus still remains on the upcoming season, as UBC attempts to make it back to the NAIA World Series for the first time since 2006. While Taylor will aim to improve his own game and raise his draft stock, his overall mission is to help lead the ‘Birds on a deep playoff run that culminates in a trip to Lewiston, Id.
“I don’t expect anything less than to go to the World Series. Our rotation and pitching staff has enough depth to win the Super Regional Tournament and the Conference tournament, so my expectation is to go to the World Series. And our offence looks much improved from last year with the help of Chris and Shawn Bowman. I’ve got high expectations for the guys this year.”