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. After starting the year in extended spring training, Sborz was jumped all the way to Lakeland for his 2008 debut. He quickly took over the team's closers role, saving seven games and appearing in 40 total games. His 2.87 ERA and only 44 hits allowed in 58 1/3 innings were also impressive feats. On the back of a 1.65 ERA and 0.61 WHIP in June, the 23-year old reliever was the runner-up for the TigsTown Lakeland Pitcher of the Year award.
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. During the fall instructional league, Sborz concentrated on working the ball low in the zone, and the added work appeared to be paying off.
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. Despite his more stern demeanor on the mound, he still visibly enjoys himself and treats the experience as a game. A continuation of this duality of mentalities will be very beneficial for a player who is extremely hard on himself and must remain confident as a late inning reliever.
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. His mechanics are far from clean, and as a result Sborz will likely always be at risk of injuries to his throwing arm. He remained strong in 2008, and looked even better during the instructional leagues; a good sign for his durability going forward.
The Tigers did not add Sborz to the 40-man roster this off-season, and he snuck through the Rule 5 draft, despite his power right arm. He is still raw and must maintain his 2008 success, but it isn't out of the realm of possibility that Sborz gets a shot in Detroit in 2009. He will likely start the season in the Double-A Erie bullpen, and a continued establishment of his mid-90s heater and devastating curveball could get him on the Tigers' radar in short order. It's been a long road since being taken in the second round by the Tigers, but his immense talent is finally coming through, and as a result he is beginning to establish himself as a legit MLB late inning option.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.