Twins Prospect Tyler Jay Can Start and Finish
The Minnesota Twins know that left-handed pitching prospect Tyler Jay can close out
ball games. The question is will he start in the big leagues?
The Twins selected Jay as their first-round draft pick in 2015 (6th overall). Jay pitched three seasons for the University of Illinois, where Head Coach Dan Hartlieb used Jay as a lights-out closer for the Fighting Illini. By “closer,” it should be understood that he finished ball games. He was not a single-inning, three-out specialist in the Major League sense of the term.
In 71 career appearances in NCAA baseball, Jay started just two games – both in his junior and final collegiate seasons. The southpaw left Illinois with a 10-6 career won-loss mark, 24 saves, and a 1.67 ERA. In 129 innings pitched, Jay fanned 143, while surrendering just 79 hits and 30 bases on balls. As his innings pitched increased season to season, his statistics showed improvement. For example, his WHIP (walks-hits-innings pitched) declined from 1.03 as a freshman to 0.70 in his final season. He was a star reliever for the 2014 U.S. Collegiate National Team, pitching 16.2 nearly spotless (2 unearned runs) innings over 15 appearances.
Many baseball analysts in 2015 saw in Jay the opportunity to fill a role similar to Brandon Finnegan’s 2014 season with the Kansas City Royals: A secret weapon out of the pen, called up late in the season. Finnegan, a Texas Christian product who now pitches for the Cincinnati Reds, made baseball history as the first player to pitch in the College World Series and the Major League Baseball World Series in the same calendar year. Finnegan debuted in the Majors as a reliever, but unlike Jay he did so with 43 collegiate starts under his belt. The Finnegan plan, though it makes a good story, is not the ideal developmental trajectory for a live young arm.
The rebuilding Twins are taking a more deliberate approach with Jay, starting his professional career in A-class minor league ball. The organization appears to be letting Jay and player development staff find the most appropriate role for the lefty. Assigned to the Minnesota Twins’ Fort Myers Miracle High A affiliate in 2015 (after initial assignment to the Rookie League GCL Twins) Jay played in his familiar relief, if not closer, role. He made 19 appearances out of the pen and posted a 3.93 ERA in 18.1 innings pitched.
This year Jay is getting a tryout with the Miracle as a starter, and the prospect is responding well. Through seven appearances, all starts, he has compiled a 3-3 record with a 2.79 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 3.0 strikeouts to walks ratio in 38.2 innings pitched, and his May games have shown improvement from his initial starts. He will need a solid three-pitch/four-pitch repertoire if he is going to progress as a starter. Reports say that Jay throws a 93-95 MPH fastball with plus command, plus curveball, and slider, and is developing his change-up as one would expect of a budding southpaw starter.
Jay, according to MLB.com, began the season as the Twins third-ranked prospect and 60th ranked prospect overall. Skeptics will say the high rankings are partly the afterglow of being a first-round pick and question the Twins wisdom in drafting Jay so high. But the prospect is still only 22, and is getting an education in working both ends of a baseball game. Achieving success in professional baseball is more a marathon than a sprint. The Twins development folks are reading between the stat lines, seeing the athleticism, the velocity, the command, the comparative scarcity of LHPs – and have put a smart bet down on a dark horse to star in Major League Baseball.
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