Background: One of the better prep prospects coming out of the state of Illinois in 2012, the 6-foot-1, now-185-pound Jay, nonetheless, entered college as an unheralded, rail-thin southpaw. Jay, who was ranked by Prep Baseball Report as the 25th best prospect in the state during his senior season, spent his first season in the Fighting illini’s pen, totaling 20.1 innings of work to go along with a solid 20-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Head Coach Dan Hartlieb decided to keep the promising then-20-year-old Jay in the bullpen for his follow-up campaign, where the results – to no one’s surprise – spiked tremendously. Jay fanned 47 and walked 13 across 41.2 innings while saving 10 games.
He continued his bullpen mastery during the summer for Team USA: 16.2 IP, 21 punch outs, six walks, and zero earned runs.
Heading into 2015, there was some hope that Hartlieb would move the club’s top arm – and arguably the school’s best hurler since Ken Holtzman – into the rotation. Unfortunately, for Illinois, Hartlieb decided that 50+ innings of bullpen dominance would outweigh Jay’s vast ceiling as a starter. Through his first 51 innings, he’s tallied an incredible 57-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Projection: Despite Hartlieb’s erroneous decision to leave the dominant southpaw in the pen during his final season, Jay will likely become the school’s highest drafted player in history. Former right-hander John Ericks is the university’s only first rounder (22nd overall).
For his part, Jay offers up an incredible package of strong control, better-than-average swing-and-miss ability, and a tremendous ability to keep the ball in the park; he’s allowed just 2 homeruns over his last 93.0 innings of work.
There’s some obvious risk that comes along, namely, will Jay be able to handle the rigors of not only taking the ball every fifth day, but also hurling more than a couple innings in each outing? Mid-rotation caliber ceiling with the floor as a better version than Kyle Crockett, the former fourth round pick by the Indians who vaulted through the minor leagues.
Ceiling: 3.0-win player
Floor: 1.0- to 1.5-win player
Grade: Mid-First Round
Photo Courtesy of cbssports.com.