WASHINGTON DC — Tayler Scott, 30, has the unusual distinction of being not only the first South African pitcher to throw in the big leagues in the United States but also the first to make it to the highest Japanese level, Nippon Professional Baseball.
Scott grew up in Johannesburg, but at 16, he left to find better competition in the United States. To make his pursuit possible, his parents took turns staying with him in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he starred in both baseball and soccer.
Pitching for Notre Dame Academy, he drew scouting attention for his athleticism and earned a fifth round selection by the Chicago Cubs in 2011. He opted to forgo a scholarship to the University of Arizona to sign out of high school. After a solid start, he bounced around in the minors, but reached the big leagues with the Seattle Mariners and Baltimore Orioles in 2019. Without a clear landing spot after that year, he signed a deal with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp in 2020.
The righty logged eight innings in the NPB, but spent most of 2020 with the Carp’s affiliate in the Western League. He returned in 2021 and posted a strong campaign, with an ERA of 1.96 and 22 strikeouts against six walks in 23.1 innings. The performance was enough to get a minor league deal from the Padres to return stateside this season.
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Scott primarily works with a sinker and slider, but can occasionally dial up a four-seam fastball to the mid-90s. His unique three-quarter slot delivery makes it difficult for hitters to pick up the ball, helping him to a strong showing in Triple-A El Paso that earned him another shot in the majors this summer.
He’s had two stints with the major league club this year before a freak finger injury landed him on the IL. He’s currently working through a rehab assignment back in the PCL, but should be available again soon.
We met him on the Padres’ recent trip to play the Nationals.
MadFriars: How did you ever get away from cricket in South Africa, become a baseball player, and end up leaving the country?
Tayler Scott: I played cricket growing up, but it wasn’t necessarily a game that I enjoyed too much. I did it for fun, and it never really took hold of me, so that was never really an option going forward.
How did you get so involved in baseball in a country like South Africa? How many opportunities were there for you to get better?
Tayler Scott: No, the baseball season is very tiny. So if anyone wants to progress, you have to leave and go somewhere else, or you won’t develop.
So how did you end up getting to Arizona? You arrived there when you were 16, so did your whole family go, or was it just you?
Tayler Scott: Pretty much it was just me, but my parents would switch off because they were on tourist visas. So one was always back in South Africa, and one was with me. They did that for all of my high school.
You were also a standout soccer player in high school. How did you get into that?
Tayler Scott: Soccer is just a huge sport globally. In South Africa, it’s always between soccer and rugby for the most popular sport. That was the most natural sport that came to me, and for a while, it was always between soccer and baseball, which I like more.
In South Africa, it was kind of the same way with baseball; you had to leave the country to improve.
I was a forward in soccer and always enjoyed playing it.
The Chicago Cubs drafted you out of high school. Why did you choose to go pro instead of the college route instead of attending the University of Arizona?
Tayler Scott: Originally coming to the States, the whole goal was to go professional, so I had no interest in going to college when I had an opportunity to start my pro career.
You struggled with your control early on, but it has picked up. What did you do to improve?
Tayler Scott: Just consistency with my mechanics. Finding an arm slot I could repeat was a big key.
You have a unique delivery. Your arm comes through at a very rapid rate, making it difficult for the batter to pick up. Was that just the natural way that you threw?
Tayler Scott: The lower three-quarter arm slot has always come naturally to me. I’ve been able to refine it where it is a little bit funky, but it is the easiest for me to repeat.
You were the first South African to pitch at the highest level in both the U.S and Japanese. What was it like to play in Japan?
Tayler Scott: There are huge differences between the two. In Japan, they play much more small ball, a lot of bunting, stealing, singles, and playing for one run. Not a lot of home runs or strikeouts, so the game is not only played differently but managed as well.
After you left Tokyo, how did things go back in the states?
Tayler Scott: The offseason was strange with the lockout and was tough for free agents. There was so much uncertainty about when or if you would be able to sign. San Diego wanted to see me throw a bullpen, and then a few days later, they signed me.