By: Brian Frank
Anthony Kay is one of the most exciting young arms in a Blue Jays system loaded with prospects. The Long Island native was the top rated pitching prospect in the Mets organization prior to being acquired by the Blue Jays with Simeon Woods-Richardson last summer in the Marcus Stroman trade. The lefty is now the fourth rated prospect in the Blue Jays’ system according to MLB.com. In an organization chock-full of young talent, he currently ranks as Toronto’s number four prospect on MLB.com.
Kay’s road to the Blue Jays organization began at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket, New York, just an hour's drive from Citi Field. He was taken by the Mets in the 29th round of the 2013 Major League Baseball Draft, but chose instead to attend the University of Connecticut. “I got drafted pretty late,” Kay said of his decision to attend college, “so I just wanted to go experience college. It was definitely a decision that paid off.”
Anthony Kay warming up for the Herd. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles.
Kay had an extremely successful college career. After posting a 2.64 ERA in 167 innings during first two seasons with the Huskies, he won the team’s MVP award during his junior season, going 9-2 with a 2.72 ERA in 17 starts. He believes going to college helped him develop as a pitcher: “It definitely helped me mature. You know, I got those three years of competing. I think it definitely helped to develop and compete at the next level.” Despite only playing three seasons at UConn, he finished as their all-time leader in strikeouts (263) and ranked third all-time in innings pitched (286). The highlight of his college career was winning the American Athletic Conference Tournament, where he beat Houston in the clinching game to advance to the NCAA Regionals.
After his junior season, the Mets drafted Kay again, this time in the first round of the 2016 draft. This time, the young hurler decided to take his talents to the professional ranks. Unfortunately, shortly after getting drafted he underwent Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow. “I think it was my last start (in college),” Kay said. “I felt a little something, but I didn’t think anything was torn or anything like that.” The surgery forced him to miss significant time to start his professional career. “It was definitely tough. I missed a year and a half and it’s definitely something you never want to do, but I think I came out stronger from it.”
Kay finally got his first taste of professional baseball in 2018. He began the year pitching for the Columbia Fire Flies of the South Atlantic League where he had a 4.54 ERA in 13 starts. He was promoted to the St. Lucie Mets in the Florida State League, where he finished the year making 10 starts with a 3.88 ERA.
Progressing rapidly through the Mets' chain, Kay started the 2019 season in Binghamton, where he completely dominated. He went 7-3 with a minuscule 1.49 ERA in 12 starts with the Double-A Rumble Ponies. His performance earned him the honor of pitching in the 2019 All-Star Futures Game at Cleveland’s Progressive Field. “I’ve never pitched in front of a crowd like that before,” Kay remembered, “so it was cool to be able to experience that. Going to Cleveland for All-Star Weekend was definitely really cool.” He pitched in relief for the National League, something he hadn’t done since his first two seasons at UConn. “You definitely get a little more of an adrenaline rush because you know you’re only going one inning, but it’s pretty much the same thing (as starting).” Pitching in front of a national television audience, he pitched one inning, allowed one hit, and struck out one batter.
Anthony Kay. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles.
Kay struggled after being promoted to the Triple-A level in June. In seven starts with the Syracuse Mets, he went 1-3 with a 6.61 ERA. Kay noted the differences between Triple-A and Double-A caused him to have to make adjustments in order to succeed. “These hitters are better. They’re more disciplined. You’re always going to have to make adjustments, no matter where you are. You know, even after you get to the big leagues you’re going to have to make adjustments. You see guys like Kershaw and Scherzer making them.” However, he wasn’t fond of some of the adjustments the Mets were having him make. “I think it was just settling into Triple-A a little bit. When I was with the Mets they were trying to make a lot of adjustments with me and I didn’t really like some of the stuff that they were doing.”
One of the things he had to get used to was the Triple-A baseball, which is the same ball that major league baseball uses, but is different from the ball used in the lower minor leagues. “It’s definitely a little bit different. The seams are definitely a little bit lower. It’s not too big of a difference, but it’s something that you’ve got to get used to.”
Then in late July, Kay was shocked to learn he’d been traded to the Blue Jays. “I found out from a tweet by Ken Rosenthal,” he said. “I saw the notification on my phone that we got Stroman, but it didn’t show who we gave up. So, I was just scrolling through Twitter. Eventually my brother sent me a screen shot of a tweet and I got a call from my agent right after that.”
The Blue Jays assigned Kay to Buffalo and he immediately settled in. “Once I got here they said just pitch and do your thing,” Kay said. “We’ve got a month left and there’s not really a lot of adjustments we can do. There are some little adjustments that I’ve done with Dougie (Bisons pitching coach Doug Mathis). He’s really helped me a lot so far.” One adjustment Kay made after joining the Herd helped him to get a sharper break on his curveball. “Getting my curveball more up and down. I kind of turned it into a slider a little bit. Getting to the side of it. I think working on that has definitely helped.”
Anthony Kay with Sean Reid-Foley. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles.
In seven starts with the Bisons, Kay posted a 2.50 ERA, while striking out 39 batters in 36 innings. Bobby Meacham, who managed Buffalo in 2019, loved what he saw from Kay at the end of the season. Meacham noted a few things that stood out about the young lefty: “His ability to throw hard. His ability to throw fastballs to both sides of the plate. His willingness to literally challenge every hitter. He’s not afraid to try to get hitters out in the strike zone. A lot of pitchers want to, I mean from the hitter perspective that I come from, a lot of pitchers want to trick guys. They want to get them out by throwing something like ‘Oh he doesn’t think this is coming so I’m going to throw it and get him out.’ Whereas Anthony… he kind of resonates as that pitcher who says ‘Ok, you got me last time, but I’m going to get you this time on that same pitch.’ Which means he’s willing to challenge that hitter. He’s willing to actually challenge himself to see if he’s better than that hitter within the strike zone, which is a really great character trait for a competitor to have. Especially a guy that has to go out there and pitch and be a starting pitcher.”
Kay is excited about the talent in the Blue Jays’ system and was impressed with the young arms he saw in Buffalo. “Yeah, it’s really fun,” Kay said at Sahlen Field in late August. “I was saying the other day to a couple of the guys that this is probably the best team I’ve played on. We have so much talent. Pretty much everyone we bring out of the bullpen is throwing 95-96.”
After learning he was traded to the Blue Jays, Kay had some fun with fans on Twitter when he asked what he needed to know about Canada and Toronto. Many of the answers he received suggested he try Ketchup Chips, All Dressed Chips, and poutine. The Twitter exchanges led to some Canadian fans bringing gifts of the Canadian delicacies to Buffalo for Kay to sample. He chuckled when asked which flavor of potato chips he liked better. “I liked the ketchup, but they just left a weird aftertaste in my mouth. I didn’t really like that. But I really liked the all dressed chips. They were better.” He noted in August that he hadn’t tried poutine yet. “I guess I’ll save that for when I get to Toronto.”
He got his chance to taste authentic Canadian poutine when he was called up to Toronto in September. He made his major league debut on September 7 against the Rays, and pitched well, allowing two runs on four hits and three walks, while striking out eight in 5 2/3 innings. After a rough outing against the Yankees in his second start, he worked four innings as the featured pitcher against the Baltimore Orioles and earned his first major league win.
Kay should challenge for a spot in Toronto’s rotation this spring. However, with the Blue Jays adding to their major league pitching depth this offseason, it’s possible he’ll return to Buffalo for some additional seasoning. Whether he arrives in Toronto in April or later in the season, Blue Jays fans have to be excited about the potential Kay displayed last season. His future looks bright and he’s excited to join the Blue Jays young core: “I think the guys they’ve got up there, and the combination of guys they’ve got in Double-A and here (in Buffalo), I think it’s definitely going to be really special in a couple years.”