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The Red Sox’ 11th-round pick is a ‘scout’s dream.’ He also survived pediatric cancer.

At age 5, Taylor was diagnosed with a Wilms tumor, a type of pediatric kidney cancer that affects about 500 to 600 children each year.Polk State College

Nelson Taylor Jr. desperately wanted to be a football player. After all, it was a family affair.

“We all just grew up loving it and breathing it,” said Taylor, who is from Clearwater, Fla. “Everyone planned on being a football player.”

At age 5, however, Taylor was playing with his cousins in the front yard when he struggled to get up after a hard hit, complaining of stomach pain. When it still hurt in the morning, Taylor’s father took him to the hospital.

Doctors quickly diagnosed Taylor with a Wilms tumor, the most common type of pediatric kidney cancer. Also known as nephroblastoma, it affects 500 to 600 kids in the United States each year, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology.


Almost immediately, Taylor was in surgery and soon told he could never play football again.

After chemotherapy, remission, and more than a year of follow-up visits, Taylor found another athletic outlet. His mother put him in track and field, and Taylor qualified for the Junior Olympics twice — a background that has served the Red Sox’ 11th-round draft choice well in the outfield and on the basepaths.

One of the best junior college players in Florida this season, Taylor led the state in stolen bases (31 in 48 games) after also pacing Polk State College the previous year.

Taylor was one of the best junior college players in Florida this season. He led Polk State in most offensive categories, batting .353/.467/.620 with six home runs and 48 RBIs. Polk State College

At the time, though, track was a taste of normalcy, even when his father went to prison for two years. Taylor looked up to his older brother, Adrian Moody, so he specialized in the same events — the 100 meters and the long jump.

Before Taylor turned 10, however, his father was released and ensured his son returned to the baseball field. Mark Persails — a former pitcher in the Tigers and Astros organizations who once worked with a teenage Chris Sale — was helping out at a camp hosted by Andrew McCutchen when he met Taylor, who showed up with a friend wearing complementary “Thing 1 and Thing 2″ shirts and a smile that wouldn’t come off. Persails started hitting fly balls.


“I was making him dive all over the place, and he couldn’t get enough of it,” Persails recounted. “He came up with dirt all in his face. I said ‘dude, you got to get on the baseball field.’”

Persails invited Taylor to play for teams he coached out of his facility, Florida Baseball Heaven. It’s about two hours from Clearwater, so Taylor, like several players, periodically stayed with Persails’s family.

“My family looked forward to the summertime because he was going to come stay with us a lot,” said Persails, who has also coached Antonio Anderson, who the Sox drafted this year in the third round. “My boy is actually on my 16-and-under team now, and he looks up to Nelly, and Nelly is a great role model for these kids.”

It was basketball, however, that Taylor fell in love with at Oak Grove Middle School. No one could drive Taylor to practice before school, so he would wake up at 6 a.m. and take his bike. He also lingered around the football field as a water boy, begging his parents to let him play as a kicker. Doctors said no.

In high school, though, Taylor generated Division I and pro interest on the diamond, even when his arm strength was diminished after he needed surgery in 2020 to repair a torn left labrum he suffered playing basketball.


Clearwater’s basketball coach advised Taylor to prioritize baseball and consider quitting. Instead, Taylor slung a brace on his arm and played out his senior season.

After tearing his labrum playing basketball in 2020, Taylor played his senior season with a large brace on his left shoulder.Marinna Stopa

He finally set basketball aside at Polk State College, where he landed with help from Persails and Tom Kotchman, who manages Boston’s rookie-ball affiliate in Fort Myers. He hit just .236 his freshman year, but Red Sox scout Dante Ricciardi said Taylor gained key confidence against high-level competition in the Cape Cod League, helping the Bourne Braves to a championship.

Taylor then returned to Polk State and led the Eagles in most offensive categories, including batting average (.353), on-base percentage (.467), slugging percentage (.620), doubles (19), home runs (6), and RBIs (48).

Ricciardi called Taylor, who was drafted No. 328 overall, a “scout’s dream” for a Day 3 pick. He compared Taylor to 2021 All-Star center fielder Cedric Mullins: a 13th-round selection who became the first Baltimore Oriole to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in a season.

“I think this kid’s going to take off in a pro setting, I do,” said Ricciardi, “just because of the ability and the athlete — and the makeup.”

The last term is scout’s lingo for character and work ethic, something all of Taylor’s former coaches harp on.

“He’s as fun of a kid that comes to the ballpark every day as you want to be around,” said Polk State coach Al Corbeil. “He’s a great team guy, a great leader.”


His middle school basketball coach and gym teacher, Jamey Bâby, has always enjoyed following Taylor’s exploits on the diamond. The first time Bâby saw Taylor bat, he hit a home run. Bâby, a former minor leaguer in the Montreal Expos system, tracked down the ball behind the center field fence.

Bâby had Taylor sign his first autograph at school the next day, telling the sixth-grader he wanted the ball to be important some day.

“The first day he’s playing in Fenway,” Bâby said, “I look forward to having him sign it one more time.”

Greg McKenna can be reached at Follow him @McKennaGregjed.