Position: Right-handed Pitcher
It's been a long, tough road for the hulky right-hander. A second round pick out of Langley High School in 2003, Sborz finished his senior year with a 7-2 mark and 0.64 ERA. In 66 innings of work, Jay struck out an amazing 133 hitters. He split MVP honors at the 2003 All-American game, striking out five in two innings of work. In 2001, Jay pitched for the Gold Medal winning Team USA Youth at the World Youth Championships in Mexico.
Despite careful monitoring his first two seasons in the Gulf Coast League, Jay managed to strike out 97 batters in 86 1/3 innings, amassing a 1-6 record in 20 appearances (19 starts). A promotion to West Michigan to start the 2005 season went horribly wrong, as Sborz's command evaded him, leaving him with a 7.90 ERA in 21 relief appearances before a demotion to Oneonta in June. With Oneonta, control was still and issue, but his hard fastball and above-average breaking ball were enough to keep his overall effectiveness at a more reasonable level.
The 2006 and 2007 seasons saw Jay battle arm trouble and inconsistent performance. After missing nearly the entire 2006 season, Sborz started 2007 with the GCL Tigers where he pitched very well. A trip back to Oneonta was not a pleasant experience, as Sborz was again knocked around, giving up ten runs in ten innings. The Tigers slotted Sborz onto the Lakeland roster when injuries surfaced this season, and he's been an outstanding contributor to their bullpen thus far.
Sborz has seen a transition in many aspects of his game in recent seasons, not one of which has been his pure power stuff. Jay's fastball still sits in the 90-94 range, and he has more when he needs it. He gets some late life on his fastball, but his big thing is just blowing the ball past hitters. His control and command still escape him with some regularity, but he's been throwing strikes with more success this season.
Jay's curveball has come back to life this year, with great bite and an improving ability to throw it for strikes. Lakeland Manager Andy Barkett, who also worked with Sborz last year in Oneonta, believes his curveball is currently the best he's ever seen it. Jay never developed a change-up, and has basically stopped working on the pitch. In his current role as a reliever, there is little need for the third offering, and it is likely he will move forward as a two-pitch power arm.
One of the big differences for Sborz has been his improved composure on the mound, which has led to a more confident approach in the late innings of close games. With his raw stuff and his new found mentality, Jay profiles as a true late-inning stopper. If he can maintain his stuff throughout this season, and avoid further arm trouble, Sborz could put himself back on the prospect map and start vying for a relief job at higher levels.
Performance Level Team W-L ERA G GS SV SO BB IP AVG A+
Sborz missed most of the 2006 season after going down with shoulder tendinitis in the season's first month. He appeared ready to take the hill again in 2007 before he had trouble with a tendon injury in his elbow for the first three months of 2007. Neither injury required surgery, and he's felt good since returning to the mound last summer. Because of his rough mechanics, Sborz will always be at a higher risk for injuries.
Relief roles at the minor league level are always volatile, and he could be moved to another team at any time. It seems likely that the Tigers will look for Jay to get in a rhythm at Lakeland, with hopes of establishing a pattern of success he can build upon. If he continues to dominate hitters in the FSL, the 23-year old could see time in Erie later this summer. With a power arm like his, the Tigers will not hesitate to move him around if he is showing the right mix of stuff and mentality.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.