Port Coquitlam’s Curtis Taylor is hoping to become the opposite of the typical Canadian snowbird.
He wants to head north from Florida just in time for the cold weather to settle in back home because that will mean his rehabilitation from an elbow injury that kept the 6’6” right-handed relief pitcher off the mound since late May is over and he can begin a normal off-season.
Returning to Canada will also mean one less border crossing next summer if he sticks with his new Major League Baseball team, the Toronto Blue Jays.
Taylor, 24, was one of two pitchers his former club, the Tampa Bay Rays, dealt to the Jays Sept. 1 to complete a deal that had sent infielder Eric Sogard south earlier in the season.
Taylor said this trade came more as a pleasant surprise than the first time he was moved, when Tampa acquired him from the Arizona Diamondbacks, the team that had selected the former UBC Thunderbird in the fourth round of the 2016 Major League Baseball draft.
“It was real exciting,” Taylor said of the Jays’ deal, which he learned about while boating with a friend in the Okanagan. “I always thought it would be nice to play for the Blue Jays.”
That’s because when his dad, Wes, wasn’t watching his beloved New York Yankees when he was growing up, Jays' games were usually on the TV.
Since the trade, Taylor has shifted his home base from Montgomery, Ala., where he was with the Rays' AA minor league team, the Biscuits, to the Jays’ winter and spring training complex in Dunedin, Fla. to continue his comeback from the injury that derailed a season he said held so much promise.
Taylor was a non-roster invite to the Rays' spring training camp last February after he had quickly worked his way up through the team’s minor system to Montgomery in 2018. He said he was confident he could make an impression after overcoming an elbow injury that had kept him from participating in a prestigious fall league for hot prospects in Arizona.
“There was a lot of opportunity there,” Taylor said of his chances to climb higher in the Rays’ system.
Then the elbow injury flared up again. A week of rest eased the discomfort but Taylor was assigned back to Montgomery.
Taylor started the season well. He pitched 17.2 innings, struck out 16 batters, made good on seven of his nine save opportunities and was named to the Southern League’s All-Star game to be played in Biloxi, Miss. June 18.
Taylor said he could feel his big-league dream getting near, “I was cruising.”
Then his season hit the skids. After pitching poorly in two games, he told the Biscuits’ training staff his elbow was bothering him again. He was sent for an MRI and diagnosed with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow.
Taylor said he was lucky it wasn’t a tear, which would have required major reconstructive surgery that could have threatened his career. Instead, he was treated with an injection of platelet-rich plasma and told to rest.
Taylor said having his season pulled out from under him was mentally challenging.
“You see guys you played with get called up, that you know you’re a similar calibre, and it’s hard not to think that could have been me.”
Instead of mowing down batters with his 91 mph fastball, Taylor has spent his summer rehabbing his elbow and minding his diet so he could maintain his fitness.
“You take it day-by-day, stay on top of every aspect to get back on the field,” he said.
Since arriving in Dunedin, Taylor has been able to throw again in addition to daily workouts in the gym to strengthen his rotator cuff and upper body. He said his progress has been palpable.
“It’s a great atmosphere here,” Taylor said. “Everyone is itching to get back on the field.”
And once he gets there, Taylor said he’s confident he’s got what it takes to stay there.
“Whenever I’m on the field, I’ve been successful,” he said. “It’s just staying on the field that’s been my biggest setback.”