Name: Tyler Jay
Height/Weight: 6’1’’, 185
I have a general rule when it comes to scouting the draft. I don’t believe in spending an early pick on a reliever. Last year Nick Burdi made every top-30 except mine. Relief pitchers not only hold the least valuable position on a roster, but many of the best relievers in the big leagues began their professional careers as starters. Last year, I had no idea what the Twins were doing when they spent their picks in rounds two through five on relievers. I know some might argue with my take on drafting relievers, but it’s hard for me to believe 50 innings are more valuable or have a bigger effect on the season than 200 innings.
With that out of the way, let’s dive into Tyler Jay. The left-handed reliever from Illinois is one of the top-10 players in this draft to me. Before one calls me a hypocrite, give me a chance to explain. Part of the reason that I see Jay as a top-10 pick is because it is a weaker draft, but the bigger reason is that I think Jay could and should be a starter for Illinois.
Before I get into the scouting report and why I am firmly in the ‘Jay-is-a-starter-camp,’ let’s first look into his numbers. With Team USA over the summer, Jay struck-out more than a batter inning and didn’t give up a single run. If you want more numbers, how about the fact that so far this year he has 39 strikeouts to only three walks and an 0.84 ERA. Jay started one game this year for Illinois, but he should have been given a chance to start all year based on potential and ability.
Illinois has a solid staff headlined by red shirt senior Rob McDonnell and draft prospect Kevin Duchene. The Fighting Illini are in a bit of a hard spot with a pair of red-shirt seniors, a third senior starter, and the return of their ace. Consequently, there is a real reason why Jay didn’t get a chance to start. I have a hard time getting too upset at a team with that is being loyal to its players. This defense also works because none of those arms have struggled this year. It’s unfortunate for Jay and I think Jay would be one of their three best starters, but the situation at least makes some degree of sense.
The lone knock on Jay is his lack of size. He is 6’1” and 175. Is that ideal? No, but scouting by size alone is never a good idea. Jay does not have prototypical height of a starter but more than a few teams have found that by drafting guys who don’t fit the starter prototype – for whatever reason – they can get excellent value. I would go so far as to say that some see a market inefficiency there. Height should be a factor but not the only factor.
The reason I think Jay can start is that he above-average command and control. His delivery is clean and repeatable. He is able to put his pitches where he wants when he wants. Jay’s fastball out of the bullpen hits 97 and sits mid 90s. If his stuff plays down as a starter that velocity is still plenty good. His curve looks like a future plus-pitch thanks in part to his ability to command the pitch. Jay’s change is a ‘show-me’ pitch that has been rarely used. There is talk that it has a chance to be above-average, but the pitch needs to be used more and developed. Jay is considered a solid athlete on the mound and should be able to maintain velocity in games.
A year ago, Dillon Tate was widely viewed as a guy outside the top-20 or so talents in this draft. Originally a reliever, Tate got a chance to prove he could start and he is now the favorite to be the top player taken this year. Tate is 6’2” and has some command and mechanics issues. I am not saying he is not an elite talent, but imagine how high Jay would be ranked if he had started since day one and showed he could stick as a starter? I think he would be a lock for the top-five right now in this class if that were the case.
Jay has two pitches that look like plus offerings and a change that most think will end up being an above-average third pitch. He is a clear starter to me. Jay has the offerings to be a starter and, again, if Tate is a top-three pick, I see no reason Jay should not go in the top-15. He could end up being the steal of this weaker draft. He has yet to prove he can start but worst case for Jay is a death-on-lefties reliever.
The obvious comparison for Jay to me is one of the most underrated arms in baseball: Chicago White Sox starter Jose Quintana. They are the same size and both of them have plus command and control, which allows them to excel. Fun side note: Quintana is only 26 this year, has been in the majors for three years, and has been cut by both New York teams. Jay has more velocity but in general both have nice, repeatable approaches that are very quiet. Quintana also started out as a reliever before he transitioned to being a starter.
Bottom-line: Jay is a top-10 talent to me because I believe he can start. If you don’t agree with my assumption then Jay is a guy who is closer to 30 or 40 on your board. No matter what, Jay is likely a first rounder for Illinois this June, which has not happened since John Ericks was drafted by the Cardinals 22nd overall in 1988. Jay would be just the second first-rounder in school history.
One final note, the greatest player in terms of WAR from Illinois all time is Ken Holtzman. He was a fourth rounder in 1965 that would go on to make a couple of All-Star games with the A’s and throw no-hitters with the Cubs. Holtzman was a 6’2” lefty who weighed 175 pounds. In the end, Holtzman might be the player Jay most resembles in terms of what his ceiling could end up looking like.