Left-hander hoping to help Illinois advance to College World Series
By Jordan Wilson
When University of Illinois closer Tyler Jay thinks about where his life is headed, he has no doubt his future lies with professional baseball -- a dream that is just days away for the likely first-round Draft choice.
The 2015 Draft will take place from Monday through Wednesday, beginning with the Draft preview show on MLB.com and MLB Network on Monday at 6 p.m. ET. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 7 p.m., with the top 75 picks being streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on MLB Network. MLB.com's exclusive coverage of Day 2 begins with a live Draft show at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, with exclusive coverage of Day 3 beginning at 1 p.m. on Wednesday.
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The scouting report on Jay lists him as a 6-foot-1, 175-pound southpaw with a quick arm and enough depth and control of his pitches to make a case for him to be a starter at the Major League level. He's also both the top prospect in the Big Ten Conference and the consensus top left-hander in the 2015 MLB Draft class.
But before his name is called on Monday, Jay and his Illini teammates have some unfinished business on the road to the College World Series in Omaha.
"My plan is hopefully to be winning that Super Regional and be with my teammates," Jay said of where he expects to be on Draft day. "It's definitely something I don't want to end soon. And if we don't end up on top, it's going to be disappointing.
"We've had this goal all year. We're right there. We can see it."
Jay drew little attention from scouts coming out of Lemont (Ill.) High School in 2012 because of his size and lack of control in the zone.
Jay didn't break out of his shell until he earned his first collegiate win his freshman year in March 2013. He pitched 3 1/3 innings in relief that day in extra innings against Baylor and gave up just one hit while notching four strikeouts.
"For me, from a recruiting standpoint, he had a quick arm and was a very good athlete," said Illinois pitching coach Drew Dickinson. "He works his [tail] off. He's earned everything he's gotten."
But after Jay's successful stint with the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team last summer -- when he went 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA, a save and 21 strikeouts in 16 2/3 innings pitched -- the scouts were locked in on him.
"It's definitely taken up more of my time," Jay said of the attention. "Now it's a little bit of a hectic schedule. But if anything, it's probably making me throw a little bit better. I like that competitive side of things that I do."
Jay was unhittable in exactly half of his 28 regular-season appearances this season, posting a team-best 0.64 ERA and 13 saves to help Illinois win 27 straight and nab the No. 1 seed in its NCAA Regional.
While Jay has pitched almost exclusively in relief instead of as a starter, where he feels more comfortable, the objective is winning. And Illinois has certainly done that, posting a school-record 50 wins to advance to the Super Regional, where it will host No. 13-ranked Vanderbilt, the defending national champs, in a best-of-three series that begins Saturday at 8 p.m. ET.
"If that's my role, that's what I have to do," Jay said. "Whatever it takes to win."
Winning it all with Illinois is the short-term goal, but Jay obviously has plenty to look forward to in the long term as well.
"I don't know where I'm going -- which is fun and cool and a little bit scary," Jay said. "I'm looking forward to wherever my life takes me.
"But right now, I'm really just trying to be better at life today."
Jordan Wilson is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.