Taylor Henry is no stranger to hard work. The left-handed relief pitcher from Centenary College of Louisiana saw himself on the path to the pros after his first two strong years at the NCAA Division III institution. But after a lackluster junior season where he collected more losses on the mound than wins, a MLB draft seemed far-fetched.
But after the 2015 season, Henry’s senior year, the New York Mets took him in the 21st round of the MLB Draft.
Henry is the first player to be drafted from Centenary in its tenure as a NCAA Division III institution, and 21st in Centenary’s history (Centenary was a Division I institution until 2013). NCAA Division III advertises a focus on academics, but gives students the ability to take part in other extra-curricular activities during their time in college. Only 11 of the 1,215 MLB Draft picks were Division III athletes.
Despite the lack of Division III players in the draft, Henry felt he had the best chance attending Centenary, though he was recruited by Louisiana Tech, a Division I institution. He attributes the largest reason behind his success to Centenary’s pitching coach – Jason Stephens. “If there’s anything, Jason played a big part in this,” Taylor said. “I felt like Centenary was my best chance at getting drafted because of Jason.”
Stephens recently completed his sixth year coaching at Centenary. He experienced the program at the Division I level and coached through the transition to Division III. Stephens watched Henry grow into the player he is today – as well as push past the difficulties he experienced his junior year. According to Stephens, pushing past personal issues and distractions that encompassed Henry’s junior year was key.
“I saw him mature much more in college his last year of college than his first three years combined,” Stephens said. “The amount of time you have to put into being the best and to be at the level that he’s at right now, it’s just hard to love two things that much.” Stephen’s attributes Henry’s turn around to him prioritizing his love for baseball, over his love for other factors of his personal life.
Henry agrees with his coach, saying shifting his focus to mainly baseball helped him push past his subpar performance junior year to become a standout player his senior year. But he didn’t wish to elaborate on the source of his lack of focus, saying he would rather put the issue behind him and focus on the future. “In previous years, I had other distractions, such as spending a lot of time with friends outside of the field,” Henry said. “My junior season I sucked, bad. I just kept working through it, that’s it.”
Layton Tromba, Henry’s longtime teammate and former starting pitcher for Centenary, feels nothing but pride for his friend. The two have been teammates since high school and have known each other since middle school, so when something was off junior year, Tromba knew there was more to it than just baseball.
According to Tromba, Henry had never really struggled until their junior year. In previous years, Henry had always been solid in his focus on the field, and handled any adversity he faced well, until his junior season. He said Henry’s mellow personality didn’t help either – as Henry rarely showed disappointment when he didn’t succeed.
“When you don’t start out the year well, it’s an uphill climb,” Tromba said. “It was like baseball wasn’t the top priority because there was so much other stuff going on in his life that he didn’t give the game the respect that it deserved, and I think that’s what got him.”
After coming back so strong from a season laced with struggle, Tromba feels there is no one who deserves this opportunity more than Henry. Of all the years Tromba and Henry played together, Tromba had his best memory watching Henry turn into the player he knew he was capable of for his final season. He said Henry grew off of his confidence, “Once one game happened he built on that, and just kept getting better from there.”
Stephens always knew Henry had what it took to make it; he just needed someone to show him the work involved. “When you start to talk about kids playing professional baseball, the one thing that comes to mind is character flaws,” Stephens said. “When you say character flaws – like work ethic- do they like to go out and party? Are they strong? Are they resilient? I think Taylor is a pretty resilient kid. He handles adversity really well, and he’s the kid that you wouldn’t mind seeing your daughter date.”
Henry had five wins and six losses his junior year on 18 appearances, along with only one save. His senior year, Henry had 24 appearances, leading the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) with 9 saves and 85 strikeouts. He was 5-2 with a 1.59 ERA, an astronomical difference compared to his junior year ERA of 7.69.
Along with Henry’s improved game, he also earned a few accolades. The SCAC named Henry Pitcher of the Year, and D3Baseball.com named him an All-American for 2015 as well as the D3Baseball.com West Region Pitcher of the Year. He also contributed to Centenary winning the regular season SCAC championship in both 2013 and 2015.
Although Henry didn’t originally expect to be drafted by the Mets, (he thought it might be the Royals or the Angels) he was extremely happy to be selected by any team. He currently plays for the Kingsport Mets out of Tennessee, a feeder team for the New York Mets. He said he has already made friends on the team, and hopes to get as much out of this opportunity as he can, with the desire to move to the top of the organization. “If you perform good, you move up,” Henry said. “You only have so long to show ‘em what you got, they’ll either move you up, or they’ll cut you.” Henry has relieved in three games for the Kingsport Mets so far, with a save in each.
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