Prospect Retrospective: Jason Bay
Jason Bay was drafted by the Montreal Expos in the 22nd round of the 2000 draft, out of Gonzaga University. He was a successful college player (hitting .388 with 15 homers his draft season, winning the WCC batting title) but wasn't considered a hot prospect, and was drafted mostly as roster-filler. His pro debut was successful: he hit .304 in 35 games for Vermont in the New York-Penn League. I didn't put him in my 2001 book, as at that time I didn't write about a lot of short-season players. He would have been rated a Grade C prospect with sleeper potential.
In '01, Bay began the season between Class A Jupiter in the Florida State League, and did not play well, hitting just .195 in 38 games. Demoted to Class A Clinton in the Midwest League after his slow start, something clicked, and he went on a huge tear, hitting .362/.447/.572 in 87 games, winning the Midwest League batting race and being one of the most devastating overall hitters in the low minors. He also stole 15 bases. I was impressed with his performance for Clinton, but concerned about his poor Jupiter numbers, plus he wasn't young for the Midwest League. In my 2002 book, I gave him a Grade C, but with the notation that I was "cautiously optimistic" that he would play well at higher levels.
The Expos did not agree; they traded him to the Mets during the spring training of '02 for Lou Collier.
Bay returned to the Florida State League to begin '02, and played well, hitting .272/.363/.437 in 69 games for St. Lucie, very credible numbers in a difficult hitting environment. Promoted to Double-A at the midway point, he hit .290/.383/.477 in 34 games for Binghamton, doing very well against advanced Eastern League pitching. Despite this, the Mets did not think he was a great prospect, and he was sent to the Padres in a late July trade. Assigned to Double-A Mobile by San Diego, he continued to hit well, with .309/.411/.568 marks in 23 games.
In my 2003 book, I bumped his mark up to Grade B-, though I still projected him as a "very good fourth outfielder," concerned that he was 24 and still had only half a season of Double-A under his belt. I did note that he could be "a better player than some regulars." Baseball America rated him just as the 12th-best prospect in the Padres system; I had him rated at number seven.
Bay battered the ball in 2003, hitting .303/.410/541 with 20 homers in 91 games for Triple-A Portland. The Padres reportedly liked him a lot, but not as much as they liked the idea of Brian Giles. . .Bay was shipped to the Pirates in August along with Oliver Perez for Giles. In 27 games for the Pirates, Bay hit .291/.423/.506, and solidified his hold on a regular job for '04.
In the '04 book, I gave him a Grade B+, rated him an early favorite for Rookie of the Year, and projected he would hit around .280 with 15 homers and 15 steals. The batting average was dead-on (he hit .282), and he was named NL ROY, although he produced more power and less speed than I expected.
Jason Bay's career is the opposite of Torii Hunter. Hunter has awesome physical tools, but took some time to refine them and learn how to play the game. Although Bay played well in college, he was never regarded as a hot prospect. Although he hit for power and stole bases, scouts did not rate his tools particularly highly. He did control the strike zone well. Aside from his poor 38-game stint in the Florida State League (less than a year out of college) in 2001, he's never had any difficulty with professional pitching. He's always played well. Statheads were suspicious of his age-relative-to-league early in his career, but the fact that he made an easy transition to Double-A showed that his performance was not a fluke.