Think back to 2016 when the Red Sox were able to nab Jay Groome in the draft. Think back to how excited we were. We were getting maybe the best high school arm available at the time. An athletic, potential workhorse with a plus-plus breaking ball and well above average velocity.
Now think about the prospect we got. An oft injured, typically out of shape guy with much, much higher risk than originally anticipated.
The Physical Profile
Here's what Baseball America had to say about Jay back in 2016 when he was third on their pre-draft top 500. "Physically, Groome is as gifted as any player in the class. He is also younger than many of his peers, not turning 18 until August." Even at 17, Jay was a physical monster. An imposing force on the mound, when Groome is in shape and taking care of his body he's a sight to behold. Six foot six and every bit of 260 pounds, you wouldn't be blamed for seeing him and thinking he was an edge rusher. The trouble is that Jay's body has already been through the wringer. I try not to hold injuries against players, but after his Tommy John surgery Jay came back in the best shape he'd been in since he was drafted, only to show up in 2020 looking soft and doughy once again. His ability to stay in shape is going to be crucial given how quickly it can get out of hand.
This gets complicated because the good things about Jay are off the charts good. He no longer has the mid 90s fastball that once touched 97 and instead sits comfortably around 90-92, though his high release point makes it play up and he can miss bats with the pitch. He can cut it and sink it a little which helps offset the inconsistent velo post TJ, but when he works up in the zone his heater has a Marco Estrada quality. It gets on you quick and plays better than the gun would indicate.
His curveball, once called the best among all the high school arms in the country, is still outstanding. I had it 60 present 70 future when he was drafted, though it's a different breaker now than it was back then when it was routinely in the mid 80s. It's mid to high 70s, but he has shown an ability to speed it up into the low 80s at times. The pitch has outstanding depth, snapping break, and he has proven he can throw it for strikes early in the count which has helped his fastball. At its best, his curveball is a weapon to be feared. When he can locate it — which is more regularly of late — it's the kind of pitch every pitcher wishes they had. He can steal strikes with it, or bury it. Lefties really struggle with it, but the snap it has makes it effective against everyone. He's improved his changeup to the point he can lean on it against righties, something he wasn't even throwing until he blew his arm out. There's also a slider that has shown good shape, though it's a ways away from being effective and I haven't seen it much in games.
The makeup concerns with Jay go back to high school where he was a Vandy commit who bailed for a juco to improve his draft leverage. These concerns were why Jay was even available at 12, despite him being a clear top five draft prospect. Those makeup concerns have translated into and been compounded by injuries. He showed up in 2017 significantly overweight and out of pitching shape and that led to an intercostal strain, and when he came back in 2018 he was shut down with forearm tightness and eventually had Tommy John to reconstruct his elbow. While 2019 saw him come back looking svelte and athletic, something he had not been since he was drafted, he ballooned to his current weight (if not more) by 2020 when he showed up at fall instructs sitting 88 with his fastball. A guy with his build needs to be careful with weight to begin with but Jay has shown very inconsistent commitment to staying in shape to help his development. The TJ isn't his fault, some arms just blow up, but being north of 260 and trying to rely on talent he hasn't really honed in the last five years is on him. There were also some concerns about his old man when Jay transferred schools improperly and ended up causing his team to forfeit two games, and those came to a head when Jay's dad was arrested on drug and weapon charges. Jay is a month shy of turning 23 and I absolutely do not hold his pops against him. If anything, him being older and wiser will hopefully give him the perspective he needs to turn these issues into a thing of the past. But having missed parts of five years of development has really hurt his growth as a player.
The statistical track record for Jay is so sparse it's effectively meaningless. He's thrown roughly 120 innings going back to 2016. Even the 44 innings in 2017 are had to make anything of as he was rehabbing and was shut down after that season for the elbow surgery. In 2021, Jay has been good for the most part. His ERA is dog shit, still sitting over five thanks to a brutal month of May where he coughed up 14 earned runs on 17 hits over just 16 innings. He's turned that around in June and July, having held opponents to fewer than four runs in each of his starts since May and routinely pitching into the sixth inning which is encouraging given the physical issues he's had. His July 30 outing was rough, but I think it's important to remember Jay is still learning to pitch at the pro level. Whether or not all the missed time is partly on him, he still missed the time. The most encouraging thing to me is that he's still striking batters out at a really good rate. He's at 12.92 K/9 to 4.14 BB/9, which is encouraging if only because it's been stable across his limited sample over the years.
Five years ago I thought we had left handed Lucas Giolito on our hands. Two years ago I thought we had a high upside, high floor starter. Now, between injuries and poor performance and the fact he's 23 and only just now graduating the low minors, it's really hard to be too generous. Maybe something clicks this year and Jay rededicates himself to physical fitness and he recaptures the magic that made him a top five prospect in 2016. The stuff is there, the starter's frame is obviously there. With his changeup becoming a serviceable offering to compliment his fastball/curveball mix, if Jay can fast track his development and remain healthy (which means holding his velo deep into games, which he is still not doing consistently) then you can squint and see a number three starter. Worst case, his body gets away from him yet again and he ends up missing even more development time and he's at best a farmhand that you can call up in a jam. Realistically, with injury and relief risk here, I think Jay ends up coming to Boston as a multi-inning relief pitcher. He'll need reps at the big league level, and with the upside still being what it is, they'll want to at least give him a shot. My guess is he's bullpen arm long term.
Jay was destined for so much more than all this. I hate making character judgments about players I haven't met, and it's not like Jay's gotten a reputation as a jackass. Quite the opposite, in fact. His coaches and teammates have talked about watching him fight through these injury setbacks and maturing into his own man. Some people take the long route to maturity — physical and otherwise. Jay abruptly went from sure thing to underdog story, and I do root for him, but he has to prove he has it in him to get in shape and be a contributor.