Tejay Antone got some good information for his professional baseball career last November when the Cincinnati Reds opted to add him to the 40-man roster and protect him from the Rule 5 draft. For the Reds it kept Antone from being swooped up by another team who felt that the right-handed pitcher could stick to their roster. Coming off of a strong season split between Double-A Chattanooga and Triple-A Louisville, there was a solid chance that someone could have taken that chance.
For Antone it meant that the Reds had confidence in his future. It meant that his path to the Major Leagues was likely about to be pushed forward as it’s far more likely to be called up at any given point if you are on the 40-man roster than if you aren’t. The addition to the roster also meant a significant bump up in pay – players on the 40-man don’t get paid the same as other minor leaguers do while still in the minors.
In 2019 Tejay Antone posted a 3.38 ERA with Double-A Chattanooga before being promoted for the second half. After joining Triple-A Louisville his ERA jumped up to 4.65, but that was still significantly better than the league average as the International League saw an explosion in their run scoring environment. For the season his ground ball rate was 55.3% (MLB average in 2019 was just 42.9%).
Back in January I wrote up his season review and scouting report piece up in the Cincinnati Reds Top Prospects series and noted this about his fastball:
The pitch has good movement on both planes, working in the 89-92 MPH range and tops out around 95.
Topping out around 95 MPH used to be a lot different than it is today. Velocity isn’t everything, of course. Movement and location matter. But there’s a very clear relationship between fastball velocity and swinging strike rates – the harder you throw, the more swings-and-misses you’re going to get. And, well, you don’t actually want contact regardless of how many times someone on television or radio tells you that a pitcher should just induce a ground ball for a double play. Sure, that would be ideal – but a pitcher can’t control that outcome on contact.
For Tejay Antone, his fastball had good movement, and he could generally locate it well. But velocity wasn’t something that stood out. In today’s game his fastball had below-average velocity. Or at least that was the case in the past.
Cincinnati Reds general manager Nick Krall was in the television booth for an inning with Jim Day and Chris Welsh on Thursday afternoon on Fox Sports Ohio during their broadcast as the Reds took on the Brewers. One thing that stood out more than anything else that Krall mentioned was that Tejay Antone was hitting 97 and 98 MPH with his fastball. (insert record scratching sound here)
Now, it is worth noting that during the spring so far Tejay Antone hasn’t been stretched out. He’s thrown 4.1 innings spread out over his four outings. Not having to pace ones self for a full start, you can usually throw a little bit harder since you aren’t necessarily conserving things for 100 pitches since you know on that day you might throw 15-30. Still, 98 MPH is a huge jump for Antone, even if it’s just in a shorter outing.
Curious as to whether this was more of a one-off or not, I reached out for more information. “His last outing was 96-97, but he’s been consistent there so far this spring,” said Krall about Antone this spring. So it’s certainly not a one-off high velocity day for the right-handed pitcher.
It seems like there’s a low chance for Tejay Antone to break camp with the big league club. Fair or unfair, options matter and he’s got all of them. Several others fighting for a spot in the bullpen do not. That’s not to say he’s got no chance – but it is likely going to be an uphill battle with all of the competition. What’s more likely to happen is that he heads to Louisville and joins the Bats rotation. From there he can provide some starting rotation depth early in the season if needed, but can also just come up and help out in the bullpen if a spot opens up for one reason or another.
We don’t know yet what his velocity will be like as a starter, if he does indeed go back to that role as expected. But even if it’s up a little bit from where it’s been in the past but not quite at that 96+ like he’s shown this spring, pairing more velocity with his curveball and slider – both pitches which can miss some bats – could be something to really keep an eye on in 2020.