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TD Top Prospects: #5 Tyler Jay

There's no doubting the potency of Tyler Jay's top two pitches. His hard fastball and filthy slider – trademarks during a tremendous tenure at the University of Illinois – are high-quality offerings that will induce swings and misses in the big leagues.

Does he have the full arsenal, and the physical makeup, to pan out as a starter? No shortage of doubt there.
Age: 22 (DOB: 4/19/94)
2016 Stats (A+/AA): 83.2 IP, 3.33 ERA, 77/26 K/BB, 1.23 WHIP
ETA: 2018
2016 Ranking: 5

National Top 100 Rankings
BA: NR | MLB : NR | ESPN: NR | BP: 98

Jay received a $3.8 million signing bonus when the Twins selected him sixth overall in the 2015 draft. Committing such a high pick and hefty sum to a pitcher who threw almost exclusively out of the bullpen in college – a non-traditional move, to say the last – was driven partially by the realities of a weak draft class, and partially by the organization's need for fast-tracked impact pitching.

Right from the start, Minnesota's front office made clear its intentions to convert the star collegiate closer into a starter. Perhaps they were emboldened by their results with Tyler Duffey, the former Rice University reliever who was enjoying a terrific season in Rochester's rotation and would later deliver a sterling 10-start debut in the majors.

But Duffey is a rare example of a hurler who made that jump successfully, and at this point it's generous to label his experiment a success, given that he'll probably end up heading back to the bullpen following a trainwreck 2016.

The Twins face long odds on this project, but the attractive contingency plan is part of what made Jay a solid gamble.

What's To Like

The 22-year-old southpaw throws a very good fastball with movement, although the mid-90s velo he regularly flashed in late relief lost a few ticks with the switch to starting. His slider is considered a potential plus-plus pitch out of the bullpen but also loses some of its bite over extended outings. As a core recipe, that combo is undoubtedly a winner.

He's a gamer who rises to the occasion, which played a big part in the somewhat controversial decision by Dan Hartleb, his coach at Illinois, to have him close games rather than start. Jay did take the ball for the final contest of his last season, a loss to Vanderbilt in the playoffs.

The ceiling is there, if he can command his changeup and prove himself in the durability department, for Jay to become a quality mid-rotation starter in the majors. But what really bolsters his prospect status is the relatively high floor. There is little doubt the hard-throwing lefty can succeed as a reliever in the majors. Baseball Prospectus, in naming him the organization's second-best prospect, suggested he could even become a "poor man's Andrew Miller."

And if the Twins were to commit to that path, they could probably have him up helping the big-league club by the second half of this year.

What's Left To Work On

For now, Minnesota is committed to bringing Jay along as a starting pitcher. To that end, much work remains.

Last year was the first step in orchestrating this tricky transition. Jay opened in the Fort Myers rotation. The previous season, after signing, he made 19 appearances out of the Miracle bullpen, logging a 27.2 percent K-rate amid mostly strong results. In the first half of 2016 he made 13 starts against the same level of competition and watched that rate drop to 23.6. It reflected a diminishment in stuff, but alas, he performed well enough to earn a midseason promotion to Double-A.

There, things began to unravel for him. Jay opened with two rocky starts for Chattanooga, yielding nine runs over 10 innings, and was then sent to the bullpen in an effort to manage his workload. He made three relief appearances before being shut down due to "muscle weakness in his neck and shoulder."

Now, we knew this wasn't going to be an instantaneous process, but it's hard to look at Year 1 of Jay's transition as anything other than a setback. During his 15 starts with the Miracle and Lookouts, he never reached 100 pitches. He wasn't yet at 80 innings in mid-July when the org sent him to the bullpen citing workload concerns, and finished with less than 85.

At best, it sets him behind in the build-up toward readiness for 200 innings. At worst, it's a more ominous indicator. Jay, listed at 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, is slight in frame. There were questions about his physical capability to take on an MLB starter's workload, and his first full pro season only served to magnify those uncertainties. Add in the questions as to whether his third or fourth pitches will be enough to get him through lineups multiple times and... yeah, like I said: long shot.

What's Next

He'll open the season at Chattanooga, where he'll need to show he can pitch deep into games routinely. Perhaps he comes into camp with some extra meat on the bones, and his offseason strength conditioning pays off on the mound. There is still hope he can figure it out as a starter and maximize his value.

But if things aren't looking good early on, the Twins don't have much more time to dink around with this experiment. Minnesota could use a power bullpen arm like his in the short term, and in that capacity, they know what they've got in the former All-American closer.


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30 Comments

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AlwaysinModeration
Feb 19 2017 09:26 PM
I don't know, I feel that you're being a bit pessimistic. Let's give him a real shot this year and see if he can stick as a starter.
    • glunn, gunnarthor, bluechipper and 6 others like this

I hope he blossoms into Chris Sale.  Maybe last year represented the steepest part of the learning curve.

 

On the other hand, given the prospect hauls that Miller, Giles, and that dude from San...Kimbrel.  Just remembered.  Anyway, given the prospect hauls they garnered, maybe accelerating his development as a Fireman wouldn't be such a bad deal.

    • glunn, Oldgoat_MN and SF Twins Fan like this
I give the starter route all year. We aren't an Andrew Miller away from relevance this year.
    • glunn, Oldgoat_MN, Oxtung and 7 others like this
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HitInAPinch
Feb 20 2017 02:47 AM

IDK.I don't think I'm all that willing to jump ship on "Jay as a Starter" this early.Let's see what happens with the change-up.That could take a load off his arm. 

    • glunn and D.C Twins like this

Think you give him about half a year, if things to not progress, put him back in the pen and pencil him in as a co-closer.Super bullpen can cover a lot of starting pitching issues.

    • glunn, Oldgoat_MN and CUtomorrownight like this

I'm with the 'one more year' crowd.

 

If it fails, put him in the BP next year. Our lineup for the BP is looking strong. If we can get a couple of them to look like they can be a strong presence in the BP for competing teams we can flip them for promising SP prospects. Set you back a couple years, but SP are where we need depth. No one has 'too much' SP depth.

Well, maybe the Dodgers.

    • glunn and D.C Twins like this
What's more important to the Teins in the next few years? Another starting pitcher that projects as a mid rotation starter or one the projects as a very high caliber reliever?

If we can get a lock down bullpen developed, that is a very good thing. I'm afraid that the Teins are trying to fit a square peg in a round hole because they are desperate for quality starting pitching. I find it very telling that they look at a guy like Trevor May and think bullpen and look at Tyler Jay and think starter.
    • glunn, Dantes929, Oldgoat_MN and 3 others like this

Worse case scenario he doesn't stick as a starter and becomes a lights out RP or closer.

    • glunn likes this
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JaleelWhite FanClub
Feb 20 2017 08:34 AM

Miller has to be the "bestest" best case scenario for Jay. I won't hold my breath for it though. Besides being a LHP and having a nasty slider, there isn't much of a comparison. Miller was a dominant college starter and a workhorse. He is a big guy and advanced quickly to the majors.

 

As the article mentions, Duffey's 2015 was most likely an enigma. If a pitcher has great success as a reliever in college and has only two plus pitches, I don't see the problem with keeping them in the bullpen. Especially if the two plus pitches are minimalized as a starter. Jay & Duffey would make a great 1-2 punch for the Twins bullpen in the future.

 

I'd give Jay another 1/2 season to show improvement, then move him to the bullpen if he doesn't perform. At that point if the Twins refuse to make the move, then it would only have to be out of stubbornness to avoid admitting the mistake of wasting such a high draft pick on a reliever.

    • glunn likes this
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JaleelWhite FanClub
Feb 20 2017 08:36 AM

Is it just me or is the Top 10 shaping up to be Gonsalves & Gordon and a bunch of rolls of the dice?

    • mikelink45, tarheeltwinsfan, Taildragger8791 and 2 others like this

We need to see Jay get more quality starts... Only 5 times in 15 starts where he pitched 6 complete innings or more. This is a big year for him in his development. 

    • glunn, HitInAPinch and d-mac like this
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diehardtwinsfan
Feb 20 2017 09:23 AM

Sometimes I really wonder if people's expectations of prospects need to be changed. Jay wore out over the season, that is without question and hardly unexpected given the transition. I don't think a position of "one more year" when he dominated opponents in FTM is hardly appropriate. He's going to need to log more innings, yes.... and that was hardly unexpected when he was drafted as we all knew he was a project in this area. He pitched quite well when he was on, and I think the big goal for 2017 is to put up similar numbers to what he did in FTM and make it about 120 IP. That would put him on track for a 160 or so IP season in Rochester in 2018 and ML ready in 2019.

    • glunn, gunnarthor, Monkeypaws and 2 others like this
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Nick Nelson
Feb 20 2017 09:47 AM

 

Sometimes I really wonder if people's expectations of prospects need to be changed. Jay wore out over the season, that is without question and hardly unexpected given the transition. I don't think a position of "one more year" when he dominated opponents in FTM is hardly appropriate. 

But, did he really dominate opponents there? His K-rate ranked 23rd among pitchers with 50+ innings and his control was middle of the pack. This from a first-round draft pick out of college in Single-A.

 

I agree that some of the assumptions you're pointing out would be hasty without context, but when a guy who really doesn't look physically equipped to be a starter breaks down before 90 innings, after good-not-great performance, it reinforces existing concerns. 

 

No one's saying "give him one more year and then write him off as a prospect." It's a matter of finding the proper role for him to succeed. 

    • glunn, Deduno Abides, tarheeltwinsfan and 4 others like this
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Deduno Abides
Feb 20 2017 10:48 AM
I like Nick's comment immediately above and would add that comparisons to Chris Sale are just hopes based on superficial similarities of being skinny lefties. Jay will be 23 this year and will most likely start the year in AA. When Sale was 23, he posted 4.7 fWAR in his third major league season. At age 22, Sale averaged 10 K per nine innings over 71 innings in the majors, whereas, at the same age, Jay averaged 8.78 K per 9 over 69.2 innings in A+.

A number 5 ranking seems right for Jay and he could be a useful major leaguer, but expectations of stardom should be tempered.
    • glunn, tarheeltwinsfan and Vanimal46 like this
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Taildragger8791
Feb 20 2017 11:05 AM

 

Is it just me or is the Top 10 shaping up to be Gonsalves & Gordon and a bunch of rolls of the dice?

 

...implying that Gonsalves isn't a little bit of a roll of the dice as well. He's really promising but he's getting by despite pretty notable control issues and a mediocre breaking ball. Likely due to having an advanced changeup that minor leaguers typically struggle with. Improving those two things will be keys to watch for in his development this year, because he has all the other qualities he needs to be successful in the big leagues.

    • glunn likes this

"Does he have the full arsenal, and the physical makeup, to pan out as a starter? No shortage of doubt there."  This statement is not what I like to see as the preface to the description of the #5 prospect on the Twins list.  

 

Then at the end you say, "but it's hard to look at Year 1 of Jay's transition as anything other than a setback. During his 15 starts with the Miracle and Lookouts, he never reached 100 pitches. He wasn't yet at 80 innings in mid-July when the org sent him to the bullpen citing workload concerns, and finished with less than 85."

 

This would be okay if he was #15, but I am beginning to feel like a pessimist or curmudgeon as I read each of these player bios which is a strange place for me to find myself.  Still hoping 1 - 4 will perk me up.

    • glunn likes this

Drafting Jay so very early was an indication of desperation--drafting college RPs and expecting to develop them them as dependable ML SPs--"try to weave a silk purse from a sow's ear".  I'm OK with spending this season to see if this dream can come true. But all should be prepared that 2017 will be another "setback" in Jay's "development" as a starter.  If, as I believe will happen, that this "setback" occurs--it's time to change gears and place Jay in the MiL bullpen, and hope that he will soon make valuable contributions to the Twins' bullpen very soon. 

    • glunn likes this
Some meat on his bones and time to refine his off speed stuff and adjust is paramount. He absolutely needs time. And by time I mean another full season. Knowing what you have a a reliever is sort of a "safety net" that you can fall back to at almost any time.
    • glunn likes this
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Walter's Whites
Feb 20 2017 05:18 PM

Is there any pitchers taken after Jay who are having great success or have reached the bigs? I don't think I'm being very unreasonable when I say the Twins have done a horrible job finding pitching in the draft the past 10 years.

    • Danchat likes this

Is there any pitchers taken after Jay who are having great success or have reached the bigs? I don't think I'm being very unreasonable when I say the Twins have done a horrible job finding pitching in the draft the past 10 years.


I think I'd rather have the 3 taken immediately after Jay. I still have hope he turns up better than Fullmer
    • D.C Twins likes this
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Nick Nelson
Feb 20 2017 05:31 PM

 

Is there any pitchers taken after Jay who are having great success or have reached the bigs? I don't think I'm being very unreasonable when I say the Twins have done a horrible job finding pitching in the draft the past 10 years.

Not a pitcher, but Benintendi went with the next pick and he's now Baseball America's No. 1 prospect  in the game. :(

    • Taildragger8791, Vanimal46 and D.C Twins like this
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Walter's Whites
Feb 20 2017 06:21 PM

 

Not a pitcher, but Benintendi went with the next pick and he's now Baseball America's No. 1 prospect  in the game. :(

A potential outfield with Benintendi, Buxton, and Kepler. What could have been... :(

 

I still have some hope that Rosario turns out to be a positive contributor, but their isn't much debate between him and Benintendi.

 

I understand that hindsight is 20/20, but the Twins have had something go wrong in the drafting/delopment process the past decade. I hope the new front office can identify what that has been and change it real quick before the number 1 pick gets here in June...

    • Oldgoat_MN likes this

I agree with: What makes Jay a SP and May a RP? If Jay is a so so SP I would rather he take his two quality pitches to the pen where he would be more likely to have greater value to the team. If he can master a change, then he has a shot as a solid ML starter.

 

My question is: How good is the pitching coach at AA? Is it better for Jay to start at AAA if he is working with a much better coach? And of course that leads us to the fact our top pitching coach is with the Twins and look at the success--or lack thereof--he had last year.

The high floor makes me feel MUCH better about him. Stewart was a higher first round pick, and if he doesn't make it as a starter, he is likely a bust.

Surprise here I know, (sarcasm alert), but I'm going to further defend Jay and his selection. At least for the here and now.

The MLB draft is the biggest crap shoot in all of pro sports. Always has been, always probably will be. Jay's draft wasn't considered an especially strong draft. Regardless, in any draft, in any sport, you draft who you think is a talented player who can develop and help your team. In other words, what upside and potential reward can you expect to receive. A year and a half later, no-one can say at this point, especially when you expect a big draft hall to include all of 3 players to make any real impact.

Benintendi may turn out to be a stud. He may not. If he does, then good for his team. But then again, other teams besides the Twins also passed on him. (The Trout arguement all over again). The Twins need pitching, especially starting Pitching, and saw a real live arm, from the left side, who was one of the top overall arms available in the draft. Right or wrong, they saw a college RP with big stuff and the ability to hone his 3rd and 4th offerings in to something good and solid that would allow him to become a quality starter. On most college staffs, Jay would have been a weekend starter, perhaps the #1 starter, but with a deep talent pool, they chose to make him their ace bullpen arm.

There is little question he needs to build his body and arm up for endurance, and develop that 3rd and/or 4th pitch...but isn't that true for most any SP prospect...before he is ready. But even as a "prospect" still working on things, he throws in the low 90's consistently as a starter with a great slider. And he has the initial makings of a couple other solid pitches. Those come along how often?

At worst, he moves back to the pen with a pair of outstanding pitches and maybe a 3rd or 4th "serviceable " pitch he can throw once in a while to keep hitters off balance. Just a couple years ago, weren't a lot of us complaining the Twins were drafting pitch to contact arms without the potential for real upside? (Wimmers for example). So they draft one just like that, and because he's still learning and developing after 1 1/2 seasons, only 1 as a SP, we want to say "bust"?

Hold your horses, I say. Give him the entire year at AA if necessary to bulk up, build up, and learn the routine of being a starter. If he's ready for Rochester at some point, GREAT! But need and want at the ML level shouldn't dictate the development of any top prospect.
    • Steve Lein, Oldgoat_MN and markos like this

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