Perhaps not as visibly as Jack Moore’s earlier morning post on a reliever making good, Jay Sborz closed out his fifth game of the season in perfect fashion last night for the Toledo Mudhens. The second round pick way back in the 2003 draft, Sborz has fought through a barrage of injuries, and is currently standing above the slew of Tigers relief prospects as the right-hander deserving of the first call up to Motown.
In six appearances this season, Sborz has yet to allow a run, and has struck out eight of the 22 batters he has faced. More importantly, for a guy who entered the year with a career 5.7 BB/9 (and subsequently walked 7 in 4 innings in big league camp this spring), he has walked just one Triple-A batter.
Sborz was drafted in the second round of a disastrous 2003 draft for the Tigers, which started with Kyle Sleeth as the third overall pick, and has produced just these five big league players: Tony Giarratano, Virgil Vasquez, Brian Rogers, Jordan Tata and Dusty Ryan. However, Sborz has a chance to improve upon that list, as the Tigers have never given up on his big arm, even adding him to the 40-man roster this winter. Out of a Virginia high school, Sborz was chosen as the draft’s hardest teenage thrower alongside Indians first rounder Adam Miller.
As you might guess, command problems were Sborz’ first bugaboo, as he spent two seasons in the Gulf Coast League working on location, and combined to walk 58 batters in 86.1 innings. He has started just 11 games since then, moving to full-time relief work when he fully returned from Tommy John surgery in 2008. However, even since then, he’s never pitched 60 innings in a season, and has been plagued with shoulder problems even since his elbow was fixed. Still, from 2008 until today, he’s pitched about 90 innings, posted a 2.49 ERA, and struck out a batter an inning.
While the 96 mph velocity from his high school days are gone, Sborz can still dial it to 93-94, and his slider is sharper than ever. But stuff has never been the question for Sborz, and I don’t think it will be even at the highest level. It’s two things that Sborz must be past for this career revival to have a chance: he must stay healthy, and his fastball must stay in the zone.
The Tigers have been loading up on relief prospects the last few seasons — no surprise given their bullpen problems from the last three years — including taking relievers with seven of their first 10 picks in the 2008 draft. However, the best of the minor league bunch might be a once forgotten bonus baby that will see the Major Leagues soon after eight years of fighting.