FORT MYERS, Fla. -- As part of MLBPipeline.com's visit to all 30 Spring Training facilities this month, we will be sitting down with prospects and getting to know them a little better. At Twins camp, it was No. 4 prospect Tyler Jay.Jay capped his outstanding three-year career at the University
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- As part of MLBPipeline.com's visit to all 30 Spring Training facilities this month, we will be sitting down with prospects and getting to know them a little better. At Twins camp, it was No. 4 prospect Tyler Jay.
Jay capped his outstanding three-year career at the University of Illinois with a dominant junior season, posting a 1.08 ERA and 76/7 K/BB ratio with 14 saves to earn Big 10 Conference Pitcher of the Year honors. The Twins took Jay sixth overall in the 2015 Draft with the intention of deploying him as a starter as a pro due to his deep arsenal and advanced command. The left-hander operates in the low- to mid-90s with his fastball and complements it with a devastating, top-of-the-scale slider that serves as his out pitch. He also mixes in a curveball and changeup, two more pitches that have the potential to be average or better, and throws strikes with all of his pitches.
MLBPipeline.com: What was it like to be part of the greatest Illini team in program history -- a team that won 27 straight games and hosted an NCAA Super Regional?
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Jay: It seemed like my freshman and sophomore seasons, we won some weekend games against SEC teams and proved that we could be just as good as some of those powerhouse programs. We began last season with that 27-game winning streak, which kind of forced people to take notice, and it only boosted our confidence to see the stands filling up at games and getting more media attention as the season played out. It was an amazing atmosphere to have all of our fans rooting us on and supporting us.
MLBPipeline.com: You were the first left-hander selected in the 2015 Draft. Have you taken any time to reflect on that achievement?
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Jay: Honestly, at first I really didn't think much about it. When I got drafted we had just been eliminated from the NCAA Super Regionals by Vanderbilt -- a game that I started -- and I hadn't even processed that it was the last time I would pitch on our home field. I don't think I realized until the offseason, when I had time to digest everything, what that meant and what an honor it is. But it's also just the beginning; your goals aren't just to get drafted, it's to make it all the way and compete and try to win a World Series.
MLBPipeline.com: After pitching all but two games in relief at Illinois and then working out of the bullpen in your pro debut last summer, what has the transition to starting been like for you?
Jay: I was told there was a chance I could be a starter after my freshman season, so I prepared for that role and got stretched out enough with my workload to do so, but with our roster situation, having me pitch in relief was to our advantage. The same thing happened my junior year -- worked as a starter in the fall and when our team made a trip to the Dominican Republic before moving back to the bullpen in January. So I've kind of been gauging how to do it for a couple years now. After coming in late in games and airing it out, the biggest thing for me so far has been learning how to get in a better routine and control the pace of the game when I'm out there. Bullpen sessions weren't much of an option for me in college due to our schedule, but they've become more important as a starter in pro ball as well.
MLBPipeline.com: Aside from building up arm strength, what in your opinion will be key to your success as a starter?
Jay: Knowing how to pace yourself but not changing who you are as a pitcher. I want to keep doing what I did at Illinois and keep that mentality, but I'm also taking advice from the Twins' coaching staff -- basically taking bits and pieces from everywhere to mold my game. Fastball command and getting ahead in counts has been a big focus so far, because if I'm pitching to both sides of the plate and throwing strikes it sets up everything else.
MLBPipeline.com: As a former wide receiver and kick returner at Lemont (Ill.) High, what was your glory moment on the football field?
Jay: We were tied against T.F. South with seconds remaining in the first half, and my buddy Damon, the quarterback, threw a pass to the corner of the end zone and I caught it one handed and kept both feet in. It was one of the plays where you just react and snag it. It was crazy. I don't even know. In general, coming out of the tunnel at Lemont, out of the fieldhouse, was one of the more surreal, adrenaline-rushing feelings you can imagine. It's something I'll always hold on to.
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.