Texas' pick of Taylor reunites Georgia 'brothers'
Late selection paralyzed in college on-field collision in March
ARLINGTON -- Even though the Texas Rangers were done for the night when they drafted Georgia outfielder Zach Cone 37th overall in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft on Monday, the team felt it still had some work to do.On Wednesday, the Rangers completed their mission, drafting Cone's teammate and "brother" Johnathan Taylor in the 33rd round on the final day of the Draft. Close ties can often play a part in every Draft, as sons of former greats or brothers of current players find themselves selected -- sometimes regardless of merit -- but this situation is a little different. Cone and Taylor were the inseparable bright young stars at the University of Georgia until an outfield collision between the two left Taylor paralyzed.
"J.T. is one of my best friends," Cone said.Before the collision, the two roomed together at Georgia and in the Cape Cod Summer League while playing for the same team. "They did everything together," Georgia coach David Perno said. "It's just tough. I wish they could have played this season out together. I really think that both of them could have been drafted high enough to forgo their senior year." Taylor and Cone spent Father's Day together with Cone's family in Cape Cod, Mass. It seemed like the most separation the two ever encountered in their three years in Georgia was during games, when one stood in left field and the other played in center. "For the last three years, whenever I've hung around with my son, J.T. has been there," Cone's mother, Janet, said. "He's a great kid, and we love him like a son." Taylor had good speed and a good bat, but all of his tools were amplified by how hard he played the game -- another thing he had in common with Cone. "I haven't been around him all that much, but the thing from watching him play, is he was a hard-nosed gamer kid," Rangers scouting director Kip Fagg said. "He was a good college player -- you can see his stats -- the kid could play." Taylor had been hoping to get selected high in the Draft this season after batting .335 in his sophomore year and leading the team in on-base percentage. If he had turned in a solid junior season, he would have likely been tabbed in the Draft's early stages. But everything changed on March 6 when a Florida State batter sent a sinking line drive into left-center field. Both Cone and Taylor had a bead on the ball, and both thought they had a play if they dove for it. Some outfielders struggle to dive for balls even when they're the only ones within 20 feet of it, but since Cone and Taylor play the game hard, they dove with no hesitation. They crashed into each other in an accident so ugly that to this day their coach does not want to speak about it directly. "It was devastating," Perno said. "You don't expect two college outfielders to get to that baseball at the same time. It's something I never want to see again." Taylor was left with a broken neck and had to be carted off the field wearing a neck stabilizer. To this day, Taylor does daily rehabilitation toward his goal of playing baseball again. Doctors, on the other hand, are cautiously optimistic that Taylor will walk again. The Rangers were one of the first teams to reach out to Taylor after his broken neck, as the organization sent a jersey autographed by the whole team to Cone, with directions to deliver it to his fallen teammate. Fast forward to Monday, when the Rangers chose Cone No. 37 overall, they thought it would only be right to let the two fulfill a dream. During their time in Cape Cod last summer, the two had a dream they joked about regularly in which they also shared the same outfield in the Major Leagues. The Rangers' area scout in Georgia, Ryan Coe, let Cone know that the team was thinking about taking Taylor with one of its picks. For a team that prides itself on creating a family atmosphere within the organization, it only made sense that it would want Cone and Taylor as a pair. "Zach is coming into our family now, and J.T. and him are really tight, so we thought it was the right thing to do from a family aspect," Fagg said. When Fagg ran the idea by Rangers general manager Jon Daniels, Daniels was receptive to the idea, as a show of respect toward Taylor and the tragedy that befell him on the field. "It was Kip's idea, him and the area scout," Daniels said. "They mentioned it to me a couple days ago, but I don't know when they first thought about it." And just like that, with pick No. 1,014, the Rangers took Taylor, much to the delight of Cone. "The area scout called me this morning and said they were thinking about doing it," Cone said. "I saw it come up, and I called him right away. He was pumped." There seems to have been some competition between Major League teams to draft Taylor, but the Rangers sent out a special request to make sure they could team him with his close friend, Cone. "There were rumblings about other teams that were going to do it, and I guess Texas stepped in and kind of put the word out that they felt it was the right thing for them to do considering they got Zach," Perno said. "It was really special." While it was not the circumstances that Taylor would have hoped to be drafted under, the action still meant a lot to him and those around him. "We're all very proud of him," said Tandra Taylor, Johnathan's mother. "It's just amazing, and when he got the call, his face lit up, and we were all very excited. It was awesome news." But if Taylor has his way, it won't be the last time a Major League team selects him in the Draft. "The way he talks, he thinks he might come back, so we'll see," Fagg said.
Louie Horvath is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.