June 9, 2015

Twins draft Illinois left-hander Tyler Jay with No. 6 pick

Tyler Jay Illinois

In selecting University of Illinois reliever Tyler Jay with the No. 6 pick the Twins made it clear they think he can develop into a starter and according to Baseball America that's an opinion shared by some, but not all, teams. Jay saved 14 games with a 0.60 ERA and 70/7 K/BB ratio in 60 innings for Illinois during the regular season and actually started a College World Series game against Vanderbilt hours before the draft, allowing a homer to No. 1 overall pick Dansby Swanson.

Jay is a left-hander with good control who throws in the mid-90s as a reliever, but the question is whether his secondary pitches and durability will hold up as a starter and how much of his electric raw stuff will be lost when trying to throw six or seven innings instead of one or two innings. Very few teams invest top-10 picks in college relievers and when they have done so the results are a mixed bag at best, suggesting the "sure thing" aspect is somewhat misleading.

Here's a list of every college reliever drafted with a top-10 pick in the past 20 years:

RELIEVER         PICK     YEAR
TYLER JAY          #6     2015
Drew Storen       #10     2009
Daniel Moskos      #4     2007
Casey Weathers     #8     2007
Matt Anderson      #1     1997
Braden Looper      #3     1997

Prior to Jay there had been just five college relievers drafted with top-10 picks since 1995 and of those five only Drew Storen, the 10th pick in 2009, panned out as hoped. Braden Looper, the third pick in 1997, had a solid career as a setup man and sometimes closer, but finished with a 4.15 ERA. And the other three were busts. That has little to do with Jay, specifically, but it does show that using a top-10 pick on a college reliever has been anything but a sure thing.

In recent years the Twins have used several high-round picks on college relievers with plans to turn them into pro starters and it hasn't worked out well at all, with a combination of injuries and poor performances derailing most of them long before the majors were in sight. Mediocre, injured, and/or failed starters become great relievers far more often than great relievers become even mediocre starters, which is why teams almost always go for more upside with top-10 picks.

Baseball America ranked Jay as the 13th-best prospect in the draft, noting that he "was trending toward the top half of the first round and could be the first player from the draft class to reach the majors if he stays in a relief role." However, their pre-draft scouting report also noted that "scouts were mixed on whether or not Jay could start" and despite a mid-90s fastball and "wipeout" slider. Terry Ryan indicated that Jay will continue to be used as a reliever for the rest of 2015.

MLB.com ranked Jay as the ninth-best prospect in the draft, noting that he's "not very physical at 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds" but "generates that heat with athleticism and a quick arm rather than an excessive amount of effort in his delivery." Their pre-draft scouting report also noted that Jay "has a deeper repertoire than most relievers" and "has enough pitches and control to lead a pro team to consider trying him as a starter."

Jay is the Twins' fourth consecutive top-10 pick, following high school outfielder Byron Buxton at No. 2 in 2012, high school pitcher Kohl Stewart at No. 4 in 2013, and high school shortstop Nick Gordon at No. 5 in 2014. And he'll be the Twins' only draft pick in the top 70 this year, because they forfeited their second-round pick for the right to sign the since-suspended Ervin Santana to a four-year, $55 million contract this offseason.


For more draft talk, plus a discussion of the Twins demoting Danny Santana and promoting Kennys Vargas, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

  • McGivey87

    The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. A complete waste of a top-10 pick.

    • danyo

      Interesting comment. Are you solely basing your opinion on Aaron’s blog post, or did you form your opinion through weekends of scouting?
      What didn’t you like about him? Was it his fastball that reaches the upper 90’s? Is it his fantastic slider? Is it the fact that he’s not a 1 inning reliever? That he’ll throw 3-4 innings to close out games, and work on back to back nights?
      Is it that he’s possibly the best lefty in college baseball? Is it the fact that if the Twins continue to play well, he could possibly debut in the majors this season? (Remember how big Brandon Finnegan was for the Royals last year?)

      Saying Tyler Jay is “A complete waste of a top 10 pick” makes you sound ridiculous.

      • AP

        While Jay likely won’t be a wasted pick as he is way more than likely be a reliever if/when he ever arrives with the Twins, the frustrating thing is this underwhelming FO continuing to purposely make things harder on themselves every step of the way. You have 20-30 years of ROCK SOLID data out there that drafting relief pitchers and turning them into high upside starters NEVER WORKS. SO why is this team that doesn’t have a good track record of developing prospects at all trying to raise the level of difficulty here??? Arrogance?? Ineptitude??

        If you love him as a hard throwing late inning lefty set up guy then just say that. I would question why you are wasting 1st round picks on relief pitchers but you could sell me on that as being an organizational need at least.

        Generally well run franchises draft high upside starters and bats with 1st round picks. Relief pitching can be had much later in the draft or by former starters not panning out and moving to the bullpen (Like Meyers will). Its just an easier skill set to find.

        Sort of like NFL teams don’t draft top special teams players in the 1st round even though they are important to the team. There are other ways to get these guys without wasting your best assets in high round draft picks.

        Who knows if Jay is the 2nd in 30 years guys that beats the odds?? History and common sense would tell you he won’t. Hopefully that means he’s an effective power arm that makes the majors quickly. This FO hasn’t proven its even willing to entertain that let alone pull it off but it could happen.

  • Steve Lein

    Failed to be mentioned here, is Jay has not been your typical 3-out reliever/closer. He often threw multiple innings, including several appearances of 3 innings or more. I love the pick. Tate and Fulmer have just as serious questions about sticking as a starter in the pros as Jay does converting to one. Plus, Twins need a lefty like him in the system badly if you ask me.

    • Danyo

      I agree. Who knows? If things don’t work out as a starter, maybe he could be the closer of the future. His WHIP this season was .61? Career WHIP of .81? The guy has a MLB future.
      I really like Fulmer too, but I think Jay is the more dominant pitcher.

  • funoka

    The recent track record is not good. I like the idea that he is nearly major league ready right now, which would at least be something.

    • todd ruedy

      The Twins definition of “major league ready” means 2-3 years. Last year, the Twin took Nick Burdi and the reaction was that he could help the Twins in the bullpen by the end of the year. Well, the reality is that you won’t see Burdi until 2017 when he’s a 25 year old

  • by_jiminy

    From what I’ve read he differs from most relievers in that he has four plus pitches and can command them all. That’s not typical of relievers.

    So while you can legitimately question his stamina and durability, this is different from taking some hard thrower with two pitches and hoping you can convert him to a starter. Or some hard thrower with control issues and hoping you can straighten him out (like their number two pick).

    A young, healthy guy with four pitches that even Keith Law says are all good, with a 0.60 ERA and an 11:1 strikeout to walk ratio seems like a good candidate for a starter. He hasn’t proven he can do it, but he also has no injury history, so it’s not like there are glaring red flags; he’s just an unknown with something to prove, but the tools to do it. And if he can’t handle starting, his experience of being a good reliever offer a nice fall-back.

    But I like his chances just fine. No one’s a sure thing, after all. He has at least as good a chance as a high upside high school pitcher: Both need to prove they can handle the wear and tear, but in Jay’s case, his projectability doesn’t require imagining he can learn four pitches; he already has.

    Thought experiment: Who would you rather have right now, him or Kohl Stewart? I can’t say I know enough about either to have a very informed opinion, but based on the recent press alone, I might take Jay. He may not be all the way there yet, but so what? Except for a few freaks like Stephen Strasburg, they’re all a roll of the dice. This guy has velocity, command, and he gets people out. That’s a nice place to start from.

    • Steve Johnson

      Here’s one possilbe red flag: why wasn’t he used as a starter in his College career?

      I do think he makes sense as a pick if the Twins are absolutely convinced his floor is a solid major league setup guy. After all, most top pics never make it to the majors anyway.

  • Eric

    No one really knows how it’ll pan out. I’m sure years from now there’ll be guys in the later rounds who’ll be All-Stars, but everyone will have missed. I appreciate Aaron’s analysis and that he gave more context to the pick. If the Twins have a plan for him and they say it’s the guy they wanted, then why not.

    • by_jiminy

      Don’t get me wrong, I agree with Aaron’s main point, that it’s much more common for a starter to become a reliever than the other way around! That alone does argue against drafting relievers. Point taken. My only point was just, that being said, there are reasons to see Jay as a potential exception — specifically his four-pitch arsenal.

      Most of the other power arms they drafted in the past year with hopes of converting to starters were more classic relievers, who to fulfill their potential would have to master new pitches. Jay doesn’t, he just needs to pitch more innings. It’s less of a stretch to imagine that working than, say, someone with poor control magically acquiring it. And by all accounts his command and control are already excellent. So the only hypothetical is can he add innings. Which as someone below already pointed out is less a stretch than some closers, because he often pitched multiple innings.

      Am I saying it will work? Of course not. But I’m more optimistic with him than, say, Kyle Cody. He sets off all the warning alarms Aaron wrote about: he is a two-pitch pitcher, with poor control. So in addition to stretching out, he will have to acquire a whole new set of skills! Not knocking the pick — just saying he is more typical of a high-potential reliever, and fits the point Aaron was making very well — to become a successful starter, he has a lot of work to do. Jay, in rare contrast, just needs to do exactly what he’s been doing for more innings. That’s why he went so high, and why it wasn’t totally crazy.

      I personally might have gone for a starter, too — there were starters ranked higher on most lists, and not having seen them pitch, and their experience starting, I’d take the safer pick.

      But I know nothing, nothing, nothing compared to the Twins’ scouts. One thing the rankings said was it was hard to scout Jay because he pitched so few innings at a time. Teams could send someone and they just wouldn’t see that many pitches. But the Twins claimed they had scouts at 80% of his games! So it could well be that the negatives on him were just a scarcity of data — and the Twins did the legwork to get more data. I find that very encouraging, and am excited to be getting someone who just may have been undervalued by less-informed teams.

      People were surprised by the Berrios pick, too. You just never know till you see how it plays out. It’s way too early to predict success — which means it’s way too early to predict failure, too! I’m choosing to stay in my honeymoon phase.

  • Eric Berg

    This was a weak draft and Jay never failed as a starter in college. He also pitched well in extended outings this year. It will be interesting to see how things work out for him–it’s pretty surprising how few closers are drafted in the top 10.