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We continue our look at the 2020 Blue Jays by examining one of the Jays’ young pitchers who have been acquired in the past couple of years: Anthony Kay.
Kay, a 25-year-old lefty, was selected by the New York Mets as the 31st overall pick in the 2016 draft out of the University of Connecticut. His scouting report coming out of college had him as a three-pitch pitcher (fastball, curveball, changeup) with a fastball in the low 90s but he missed a big chunk of time, having Tommy John surgery and missing 2017.
Kay split 2018 between Class-A Columbia and Advanced-A St. Lucie and posted solid numbers although his walk rate rose at the higher level as he was still in just his first season beyond his surgery.
Kay started 2019 at Double-A Binghamton for the Mets and was dominant, posting a 1.49 ERA and 0.92 WHIP while bringing his strikeout rate back up and his walk rate down. He was promoted to Triple-A Syracuse and struggled in seven starts, posting a 6.61 ERA in 31 1/3 innings but he would be traded to Toronto at the deadline, with Simeon Woods Richardson joining him in the deal that sent Marcus Stroman to the Mets. Pitching for Buffalo, Kay threw another 36 innings over seven starts and had a 2.50 ERA and 1.53 WHIP, striking out 39 but walking 22 before he got his first taste of big league action. Called up in September, he threw 14 innings (two starts and one relief appearance), and held his own with a 5.79 ERA and 1.43 WHIP, striking out 13 and walking five.
Coming into 2020, Kay pitched four times in spring training, throwing 7 1/3 innings and giving up six runs on nine hits and seven walks with nine strikeouts which didn’t give the best possible impression to the Blue Jays’ brass. Still, when the season reopened in July, Kay was in the Jays’ bullpen and he made is season debut against the Tampa Bay Rays on July 26, giving up a run on three hits over 2 2/3 innings. He would be used in a relief role the rest of the year, picking up a couple of wins and his best outing was likely his August 8 appearance against the Boston Red Sox in which he threw 3 1/3 innings with just two hits allowed, striking out three. He did collapse at the end of the year, allowing six runs (five earned) against the Mets in just 2/3 of an inning and then another two runs in two innings against the Yankees on September 15 before he sent out to the Alternate Training Site for the remainder of the season (he was recalled on September 28 but didn’t pitch).
Kay finished the season with a 5.14 ERA and 1.71 WHIP over 21 innings, striking out 22 and walking 14, earning 0.1 WAR (according to Baseball Reference).
Statcast wasn’t crazy about Kay’s overall numbers, outside of his fastball spin which was ranked in the 71st percentile. His fastball was above league average in velocity as well (in the 55th percentile), making it an excellent weapon. His curveball spin was in the 54th percentile. That said, he gave up a higher exit velocity than average (43rd percentile) and was about league average in hard-hit ball percentage. His strikeout rate was below average (45th percentile) and his walk rate was very high (7th percentile).
Kay is going to have his work cut out for him in 2021. Hitters were not really fooled by him all that much in 2020 and he’ll definitely need to cut down his walk rate. The Blue Jays do have some arms in the rotation and the speculation is that they’ll probably sign or trade for another starter to go with Hyun-jin Ryu, Nate Pearson, Tanner Roark, and Robbie Ray. Additionally, Kay will have to contend with Ryan Borucki as another lefty as well ass Ross Stripling and Shun Yamaguchi who both can have swing-man roles. Trent Thornton will also be in the mix if he’s healthy and Sean Reid-Foley might still be in the club’s picture as a potential starter.
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