With the top three players taken tonight being shortstops for the first time in Major League history, the dominoes started to fall into place when the Rangers took right-hander Dillon Tate with the fourth overall pick. Houston, with their second pick in the top five, took Kyle Tucker next. There went my guesses for the Twins.
Congratulations are in order to Baseball America, Sports Illustrated, and Jim Callis of MLB.com, all of whom had Tyler Jay going to Minnesota in their most recent mock drafts.
Jay is a left-handed pitcher out of the University of Illinois. He saved 24 games for the Fighting Illini over the last two years, and in his three-year collegiate career owns a 1.48 ERA and 0.81 WHIP in 122 innings. That line includes 137 strikeouts, 30 walks, and just two home runs allowed. Jay didn't allow a ball to leave the park at all this year.
There will be some hand-wringing over the fact the Twins drafted a reliever here, but most scouts believe that any team who took Jay would develop him as a starting pitcher. Here's what a few of the most respected scouts and experts in the industry have to say about Minnesota's latest first-round pick.
In this scenario, with five hitters gone ahead of them, the Twins would go for an arm. With Minnesota in first place in the American League Central, Jay could give them relief innings in the big leagues in 2015 if needed, then return to to the minors to be developed as a starter. The Twins have tried to develop lesser athletes who relieved in college as starters in recent years, and would not hesitate to do so with Jay, an impressive athlete who many believe has starting ability.
Jay violates a couple of common sense rules for this area of the draft—he has a slender build and a lack of proven ability to be a starter. There have been plenty of similar athletes who've gotten into the every-fifth-day grind of being a professional starting pitcher and not been strong enough to maintain their stuff. But Jay's stuff and his command are so good and his performance so sterling that some team in the top 10 will select him.
Jay has the most impressive arm acceleration of any college pitcher in this draft pool, and he uses it to pump mid-90s fastballs past Big Ten hitters with impunity. ... Jay's power curveball is a true plus pitch just based on sheer spin and movement. What makes it especially terrifying is that Jay can locate it in the strike zone or bury it down in the zone at will, allowing him to pitch backward with it or use it as a nasty, late-count surprise when he needs to throw a strike. ... Jay also has above-average command despite a unique delivery, and some project it to be plus-plus. ... So why wouldn't a lefty with a plus fastball, plus breaking ball and plus command be a no-doubt top-5 pick in a draft as weak as this one is reported to be? Well, Jay has spent 2015 pitching out of the Illini bullpen, making him extraordinarily difficult to scout.
In short, the Twins took a player who - yes, was a reliever in college - but who has a plus fastball, a plus curve and, potentially, plus-plus command. He could make his Major League debut in 2015. And he has every chance of turning into a starting pitcher. Indeed, scouts expect that he will.
These player grades are an average of a number of scouting reports, and including present/future values on the 20-80 scale.
For the uninitiated, the 20-80 scale is the arbitrary scale by which scouts grade a player's skills. An 80 is Hall of Fame caliber and among the best ever seen. A 70 is a perennial All-Star. 60 is solidly above average/occasional All-Star. 50 is average, 40 below average.
As you can see, by this standard scouts like Jay very much. If a player's floor seems to be a shut-down closer, you could do worse.