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2015 MLB Draft Prep: The Tyler Jay Question

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The closer for the Illini will come off the board early in June. He takes center stage in this article.

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

I remember a long-ago discussion on Bleed Cubbie Blue about an oddity going around at that time. A couple managers were doing some curious things most every day for a stretch. Many of us were weighing in with our opinions at the time. As I recall, my opinions haven't changed much. I thought the idea was silly, but the numbers seemed to back it up. Therefore, I was fine with it. I think the alternate way of doing things must have disappeared, as surely no team is batting their pitcher eighth anymore. Sometimes, a good hypothetical discussion is good, as it clears out some of the mystery for when it isn't so hypothetical anymore. My article today banters about University of Illinois closer Tyler Jay.

The 6-1 left-handed fireballer from Lemont, Illinois isn't you typical reliever. While he rushes the ball to the plate in the mid- to high-90s, he also has a slider and change that figure to get out pro hitters. The Illini have had a nice run on starting pitching options, and coach Dan Hartleb decided to continue to use Jay out of the pen this season. They've gone over a month without losing, so the plan seems to have worked.

Jay will probably be gone in the first 15 picks. One well-thought-out mock recently had him going to the Cubs, so that isn't unthinkable. It's doubtful he goes before the Cubs. If the Cubs, in a previous regime, would have pulled the trigger on a guy like Jay, it would have been a bit curious. If the current brass does so, I have confidence that all sides of the issue had been presented, and a compelling argument had been made for him.

With him being local, it would be very easy to research his past. That is more of a concern now than it was before. When a draft pick was signing for a six-figure bonus in the top 10, the money really shouldn't have been that big of a problem. Nowadays, not only is is the bonus likely going to be over $2 million, it's also money you can't realistically spend on somebody else, even if you wanted to. Silly Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Most of us are familiar with how the Royals used Brandon Finnegan in the postseason last year. Hearing that Jay is currently a reliever might make you think that Jay would be used in a similar fashion. There is a bit of a difference, however. Finnegan was a collegiate starter. He had developed his starter's repertoire through his college career. His trip through the minors into the playoffs was a bit of a lark.

After signing with the Royals, Finnegan started a handful of games in the Carolina League (Advanced-A Level), then relieved some in Double-A before getting the call-up. Finnegan started a pair of games in the minors this season, and has been a reliever in the majors. Finnegan's stamina is built up. Jay is a reliever with the potential of three starter-quality pitches. However, his nearly 50 innings have been scattered over 22 appearances, only a few being longer than six outs.

The question with Jay is this. Let's assume he is named the Cubs choice at 1.9, which could happen. It could be that he will even be the top guy on their board, as Team Theo has their own batch of considerations. (Conversely, they may have next to no interest in him.) What should the Cubs do with Jay if they select him?

I see four options, all of them valid. The first is to treat him like a normal pitcher in the Cubs system. Send him to Mesa to pee in the cup, and get him ready for some time shortly thereafter in Eugene in the Northwest League. Cubs pitchers rarely go over 20 innings in their debut season, so get him some chances with the Emeralds, and maybe the South Bend Cubs. Then, shut him down.

The second option is a bit similar, except it notes his limited innings this year in college. He still goes to Mesa and points thereafter. However, as he is mainly a reliever, they give him more innings to account for innings he didn't get in his junior campaign in Champaign. Instead of the normal 20, they send him out most of the way through the season, likely as a piggy-back style starter. Perhaps he gets as far as Myrtle Beach with success.

Option three is a bit more aggressive. It borrows from the second option above, but starts him in South Bend after Mesa. Or even Myrtle Beach. This option acknowledges that he might, with some slight tweaking, be better than Phil Coke. The plan here is to see if he can be rushed to the parent club by late August, hoping he could be brought in to face hitters like Joey Votto and Jason Heyward in September. Development, be it in Des Moines, Kodak/Sevierville Tennessee, or wherever is an after-thought. This is a pennant race, and the plan should be to get him on the 40-man as quickly as possible.

The fourth option is a bit of a swerve off of option three. The expectation will be to start him as a starter in South Bend or (likely) Myrtle Beach in 2016, but 2015 belongs to the parent club. His development on his slider and change can be worked on in the bullpen or in games this season, but getting him to the show ASAP rules in this option as well.

I can make an argument for any of the four, which makes it interesting. I can argue against any of them, as well. Which makes it fun. I don't particularly care which one you go with, but feel free to justify your answer below.


On Saturday, I went to a neighborhood garage sale after work, and missed most of the college baseball action that day. One of the things I missed was a seven-out save by Jay against Ohio State. That clinched a road-series victory in Columbus, and solidified the Illini's claim to a national seed, which is offered to the top-eight seeds. They have three home games each left against a rather weak Rutgers team, and an under-performing Nebraska squad. After that comes the conference tourney. If they take care of business, they will likely bring in additional bleachers to have enough seats at their home venue to qualify as a host. (Yeah, this is a bit of a surprise.)

The consensus seems to be that the Arizona Diamondbacks won't select prep shortstop Brendan Rodgers first, even though they probably should. Rodgers, UCSB righthander Dillon Tate, and Vanderbilt shortstop Dansby Swanson figure to be the top three off the board. If they have healthy careers, they should be very good pro ball players, but nobody is mistaking them for the Mark Appel/Kris Bryant/Jon Gray triumvirate from 2013.

Kyle Funkhouser from Louisville and Louisiana State's Alex Bregman figure to come off the board shortly thereafter. I'm hoping someone goes "off-the-board" somewhere, grabbing a player I doubt the Cubs are interested in. Two possible names that might get called between five and eight are prep outfielders Daz Cameron and Trent Clark. Not that they are bad players, but I don't see how the Cubs would burn an early selection on either. On my Twitter feed, a few teams are in on Cameron in the top ten. And some scouts don't see them as first-round worthy. Cuz scouting.

What the Cubs will take in the second rounds and beyond will be keyed by whether the choice at 1.9 will be a budget selection, a mildly-below-slot choice, or a budget buster. Unlike in previous regimes, if the first pick is of the budget variety, all the money will still be spent. With that in mind, team scouts are monitoring talent from across the spectrum. Likely, they are getting projected signing parameters in the process.