Pirates prospect Jason Bay
The Pirates outfielder possesses all-around talent that could put him in the hunt for Rookie of the Year honors.
Position: OF Height: 6-2 Weight: 200 Born: 9/20/78 Bats: Right Throws: Right
Jason Bay went to college at Gonzaga, where he hit .388 with 15 homers and 16 steals in 2000, leading the West Coast Conference in batting average. Despite this excellent performance, he wasn't considered a top prospect, falling to the 22nd round in the draft, where the Expos picked him. He hit .362 in 87 games for Class A Clinton in 2001, but the Expos weren't impressed and traded him to the Mets in March 2002. He played fairly well in their system, but was shipped to San Diego that July for Steve Reed. The Padres fell in love with him and resisted shipping him to the Pirates when his name came up in trade talks. Eventually they relented, sending him to Pittsburgh as a key part of the Brian Giles deal.
Bay is a decent athlete, but scouts have never been overly enthusiastic about his physical tools. He runs OK, but isn't a blazer. His arm is slightly above average and accurate. His outfield range is decent, not great, but he positions himself well and can play center field if needed. His swing isn't always pretty, but he can pull for power or go to the opposite field. His strike-zone judgment is very good; he makes contact, will take a walk, and usually holds in well against both breaking pitches and changeups. Although his pure speed isn't that impressive, he is a very sound baserunner with good instincts, aggressiveness and composure on the bases. He steals at a very sound percentage, and should be good for double-digit thefts at the major-league level. Bay is fundamentally sound, works hard and plays with enthusiasm. He is a perfect example of how field instincts and baseball skills magnify and enhance organic physical tools.
Aside from a .195 average in 38 games in the Florida State League in '01, Bay's record is very impressive. He hits for average, draws walks, hits for power, steals bases, and doesn't strike out that much. His secondary offensive skills (power/speed/patience) are quite strong. At the major-league level, he projects as a .270-.280+ hitter, with double-digit home run and steal production. The biggest negative is his age: at 25, he doesn't have that much time left on the growth curve and isn't likely to improve much beyond where he already is. But that's OK; he's plenty good as it is.
Bay has had some problems with nagging injuries, including wrist and shoulder problems in '03. He had surgery to repair his labrum this winter. He is expected to be healthy by early April, but a slow start is possible and his condition should be monitored during spring training.
What to expect
The Pirates want Bay to be their starting left fielder in 2004. He's certainly ready, but the shoulder injury may slow the timetable if he doesn't get off to a fast start in spring training. Bay has nothing left to prove in the minor leagues, so as soon as he is healthy, he should get to play. He is a darkhorse Rookie of the Year candidate, due to his strong balance of skills and proven track record of success.
John Sickels is the author of The Baseball Prospect Book 2004, which can be ordered through his Web site, Johnsickels.com. His other book, Bob Feller: Ace of the Greatest Generation, is also out, and can be ordered through on-line book outlets or your local bookstore. He lives in Lawrence, Kansas, with his wife Jeri, son Nicholas, and feline friends Toonces and Spot.