Tate: Jay an intriguing prospect for pro scouts

Tate: Jay an intriguing prospect for pro scouts

The temptation was alluring.

After two Illini seasons in the bullpen, southpaw Tyler Jay was intrigued by the prospect of starting. And what’s wrong with getting perhaps 100 innings out of a superstar as opposed to 40 as a reliever? UI pitching coach Drew Dickinson was among those enamored by the idea. 

But coach Dan Hartleb had a “big-picture” perspective. It might have been different if Illinois had a problematic team.

But Hartleb had nursed four veteran hurlers into position, and what he really needed was the hammer to put the final nails in opposing coffins.

It’s hard to argue with a scheme that sends Illinois to Penn State today (5:30 p.m.) with 33 wins, six losses and an all-time-high No. 8 ranking in the coaches’ poll.

With eight saves and a 5-1 record, Jay was most recently named to the watch list for the Stopper of the Year award. In 38 innings, he has the nation’s No. 2 ERA of 0.71 while producing 43 strikeouts and three walks.


A scout’s perspective

Jay is drawing major league scouts in droves. A familiar face here Tuesday (for a 14th consecutive win, 10-1 against Eastern Illinois) was Jim Hendry, former Cubs general manager now on special assignment with the New York Yankees.

“One problem for us is not knowing exactly when Jay is going to pitch,” said a National League scout who asked to remain nameless.

Jay projects as the top draft pick in UI history and, if he is chosen among the top 10 players, he’d fall in the category of $3 million (a negotiated figure) and up.

Jay drew national attention with 15 appearances and a 0.00 ERA for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team last summer. Four amateur pitchers were ranked ahead of him going into this spring, and all four — Duke’s Michael Matuella, Virginia’s Nathan Kirby and two from California — have been injured.

Two of them have reportedly undergone Tommy John surgery. That’s why, of 40 picks, major league teams might take 20 pitchers. Jay is attractive because his motion is highly efficient and his arm hasn’t been overworked.


Doing their homework

Still, major league teams would like to be more informed about his starting capabilities.

“We’d prefer to know as much as possible about the players we might draft,” said the scout. “If we take a pitcher in the top 10, we want to be certain that he can start as well as relieve. At that spot, you want a front-line guy.

“Jay’s stuff is good. There aren’t many lefties topping out at 97 (mph) and throwing routinely in the mid-90s. And he has a good curve and slider. I’ve seen him go five innings once and four innings on another occasion, and he is very efficient. He has good command and doesn’t struggle with 25- and 30-pitch innings. It looks to me like he can sustain.

“But when you’re dealing in millions of dollars, this is a decision that’ll be made at the top,” he said

“In the draft, it might hurt him from the aspect that he’s not starting. But I think in their current situation, the Illini would be making a mistake to change. Hartleb has four solid starters and I’m not sure any of them fit the bullpen as well as Jay does. I don’t think you would get the same result on the back end. What they’re doing has enabled them to win 33 games.”


Jay not only Illini to watch

The scout evaluated other Illini.

— Kevin Duchene, who pitches today, should go in the top 10 rounds.

“He is a lefty with tremendous feel for multiple pitches, and he puts the ball where he wants to,” he said. “He starts out between 89 and 91, and then settles in slightly below that. He has better arm action and delivery than some of the other Illini pitchers (like senior Drasen Johnson, who intends to play professionally).”

— Jason Goldstein is a junior in industrial engineering and will have a decision to make.

“It might take some convincing for him to come out,” said the scout. “As a catcher, he doesn’t frame pitches as softly as we would like. He tends to pick low pitches rather than block them, which you can do on turf as opposed to dirt. He made an adjustment to his stride this season and has been red-hot during the win streak. He has a better arm and receiving skills than Indiana’s Kyle Schwarber, but not the crazy power that Schwarber possesses (Schwarber is now in Class AA with the Cubs organization).” 

— David Kerian (.346) and Casey Fletcher (.336) are the best prospects at other positions since fifth-year senior Reid Roper does not intend to play professionally. Said the scout:

“Kerian is a switch hitter with power (nine homers) and appears to have a better swing left-handed. Fletcher has baseball instincts and is good in the clutch. He’s not the fastest outfielder, nor the biggest and strongest, but he’ll get a chance.”


Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.

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Green Shirt wrote on April 24, 2015 at 4:04 pm

Jay needs a change-up.