Revisiting Tyler Jay

Tyler Jay was released by the Cincinnati Reds sometime in the last few days. I saw it on Baseball America on Wednesday, as some teams have — during a transaction freeze, mind you — scurried to release minor leaguers by the bucketload in recent days and weeks.

And mostly I was just….sad. Not sad in the way the world makes us feel lately, but in a way where someone’s lofty hopes and dreams don’t pan out. Like watching a movie that ends with the hero not actually getting the girl.

And certainly, the door isn’t shut on Jay making the big leagues someday. He’s only 26, and he was quite a bit better at Double-A Chattanooga than he was at that same place a year ago — albeit in a different organization after the Minnesota Twins moved their affiliate to Pensacola.

But the problem is more that he was 25 and still pitching in Double-A. That’s not an unreasonable thing at all, but he was drafted in 2015. He went straight to Fort Myers and pitched 18.1 reasonably good innings (3.93 ERA, 10.8 K/9, 1.42 WHIP).

But a year later, Jay had spent all but 14 of his innings in Fort Myers again, and those he spent in Chattanooga were just fine. He had a 5.79 ERA — which, to be fair, isn’t a great indicator in such a small sampling — and batters hit .245/.310/.377 against him.

That’s not terrible, but mind you, this was the guy the Twins took sixth overall with the idea of fast-tracking him to the big leagues as either a power reliever or a pretty good starter. And a year-and-a-half after he’d been drafted, he’d still thrown less than two full games worth of innings above High-A.

Maybe the Twins weren’t hoping for Chris Sale, but they didn’t even get Brandon Finnegan, either.

Jay barely pitched in 2017. He suffered neck issues late the year before and was on multiple occasions evaluated for the potential of needing thoracic outlet surgery — something that has put the kibosh on numerous pitching careers, and is now what Pittsburgh ace Chris Archer is facing — and even before then, the Twins had moved him to relief on a full-time basis.

Jay pitched poorly in Chattanooga in 2018, and repeated the level — this time in Pensacola — and was worse before the Twins flipped him to the Reds for cash last June. He even went unselected in the Rule 5 draft when the Twins opted not to protect him.

In 32.2 innings after the trade, Jay had a 3.03 ERA with good strikeout rates, but he was again plagued by so-so control — 3.3 BB/9, career rate of 3.4 — and his WHIP was still 1.41. I think of WHIP like a pitcher’s blood pressure. Even if things are going good, there’s something else to worry about brewing underneath. With Jay, the WHIP has been on the shaky side pretty much his entire pro career (1.45 in 236 IP).

So the Reds dumped him. Now it’s possible we don’t know something about his health, but for whatever reason, the Reds decided not to keep him around.

And it’s easy to see why people will call this a failed pick for the Twins. These people are not wrong.

Anyone with an internet connection can pull up the first round of the 2015 draft and list off players taken behind Jay who might have proven to be better choices. In fact, Jay is the only one of the top-nine players taken who hasn’t played in the major leagues.

The pick right after him was Andrew Benintendi.

And while there are others who would have helped the Twins more than Jay wound up doing — Ian Happ comes to mind, or get this, Walker Buehler and Mike Soroka, who went 24th and 28th overall, respectively — the revisionist history is a bit absurd.

There’s a widespread desire to re-litigate the Jay pick as something that was widely panned at the time — and that’s not really true.

In a mock published on June 8, 2015, John Manuel of Baseball America — now of the Minnesota Twins, oddly enough — had Jay going sixth overall to the Twins.

Neither Jim Callis nor Jonathan Mayo of have Jay slipping past sixth overall:

Respected draft analyst Kiley McDaniel — who has not only worked in MLB scouting roles but also was a colleague at Fangraphs — had Jay going third to the Colorado Rockies in his mock dated May 28. In it, he promises a mock 3.0 — this is 2.0 — but I can find neither hide nor hair of it on the information superhighway.

He has the Twins taking UC Santa Barbara righty Dillon Tate, but admits they “are a little tough to read at this point.” He heard the Twins would love to see Alex Bregman slide that far. He also lists Daz Cameron (who was oddly tweeted as the Twins pick by someone in the industry before the pick was made, incorrectly of course) and Kyle Tucker as options with Walker Buehler, Ian Happ and Kolby Allard in the mix, too.

MyMLBDraft had Jay going third to the Rockies as well, with the Twins landing Allard — a lefty who made his MLB debut in 2018 with the Braves and was traded to the Rangers last summer in the Chris Martin deal:

Over at Baseball Prospectus — a place I’ve written and edited and respect greatly — Christopher Crawford had the Rockies nabbing Jay as well. Crawford is really good at these sorts of things, too.

You aren’t going to want to hear this — but his mock had the Twins taking Buehler.

The prestige of citing Sports Illustrated has taken a hit in recent seasons, but they also had the Twins taking Jay. (writer’s note: I have no idea why their format is all jacked up)

And I can imagine some reservations to me posting only mocks. That’s fine. I think it encapsulates how Jay was viewed at the time leading up to the draft.

But how about some post-draft analysis?

Eric Longenhagen — a terrific prospect analyst who I worked with at Fangraphs — wrote the following at ESPN the night of the 2015 draft:

So you can look at this two ways — both with how Longenhagen writes the pick up and how Law had him as his No. 9 player in the pool. The link to Law’s top-100 list no longer is active, but here’s who his top 10 were:

  1. Brendan Rodgers
  2. Kevin Newman
  3. Dansby Swanson
  4. Alex Bregman
  5. Dillon Tate
  6. Kolby Allard
  7. Ian Happ
  8. Kyle Tucker
  9. Tyler Jay
  10. Trenton Clark (now Grisham)

Ultimately, it’s pretty obvious that it takes some bogus revisionist history to suggest that the Jay selection was “widely panned” at the time. It didn’t work out. Lots of top-10 picks don’t.

Now the hope is that there isn’t an article like this about Nick Gordon a year down the road.

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