The Cincinnati Reds will kick off their spring training games on Saturday afternoon in Goodyear as they take on the Cleveland Indians at the shared facility. On Saturday the Reds will be the visiting team and right-handed pitcher Tejay Antone will be making the start for Cincinnati. The prospect may be a bit unknown to many Reds fans, so it felt like a good time to talk about him a little bit.
The Reds selected Tejay Antone (Baseball-Reference link for his stats) in the 5th round of the 2014 Major League Baseball draft out of Weatherford College. He had pitched at TCU in 2013 before transferring. He worked his way up through the system, pitching for the Arizona League Reds and Billings Mustangs in rookie ball in 2014 after the draft. The next season he posted a 2.91 ERA in Low-A Dayton in 158.0 innings. In 2016 he moved up to Advanced-A Daytona, making 25 starts with a 3.51 ERA over 151.1 innings before making the final start of the year for Triple-A Louisville, giving up one run in 5.0 innings.
But in 2017 things went south for Tejay Antone, but not in the way you may initially be thinking by reading the first part of this sentence. It wasn’t the performance that went south, it was the lack of a performance. Unfortunately for Antone he tore the UCL in his pitching arm and had to undergo Tommy John surgery. It would cost him the entire season in 2017 and the first five weeks of 2018. When he did return to the mound, the then 24-year-old joined the Daytona Tortugas again in the Advanced-A Florida State League. While there he posted a 4.03 ERA in 96.0 innings.
This past season he jumped up to the Double-A level, making 13 starts with the Chattanooga Lookouts. The right-handed starter posted a 3.38 ERA in his 74.2 innings with the Lookouts before he was promoted to Triple-A. In 2019 the highest level of the minors was also using the juiced ball and both the International and Pacific Coast League’s saw home runs, runs scored, and ERA’s explode. For Antone, he was like most other pitchers who jumped up during the season – he saw his ERA shoot up quite a bit. In his 14 games and 71.2 innings he posted a 4.65 ERA. If that ERA sounds high, it is and it isn’t. The league average ERA last season was 4.90 in the International League – so Antone was actually above-average at preventing runs. He also posted his highest strikeout rate at any level while in Triple-A.
The game on Saturday won’t be available to watch on television (you can listen live on 700 WLW in the greater Cincinnati area) – so unless you are in Goodyear, you aren’t going to have a chance to see Antone in action. But there’s a chance that you could see him pitch at some point on television later in the spring (here’s the tv schedule for spring training), so let’s talk about what he brings to the table.
A quick scouting report for Tejay Antone would include a fastball in the low 90’s that will touch a little bit higher. That pitch has good movement on it and generates a high rate of ground balls – he’s got a career ground ball rate of 55.3% in the minors (In 2019 the MLB ground ball rate was 42.9%). He also brings a solid change up and curveball to the table. But perhaps the biggest thing for Antone in 2019 was the development of his slider once he reached Triple-A. The pitch was a key to his rise in his strikeout rate.
Over his last two starts in Triple-A during 2019 he struck out 19 batters and walked just one. Here’s a look at the final pitch of his 9-strikeout performance against Columbus on August 27th.
Just added to the 40-man roster in November, Tejay Antone will be fighting an uphill battle to make the Reds roster if everyone remains healthy. Fair or unfair, how many options that a player has will sometimes play a factor. Antone has three options remaining. With what seems to be just three spots open in the bullpen if everyone is healthy and plenty of quality competition along with several players fighting for those same spots not having options – Antone would have to likely significantly outperform a few players to grab a spot.
What seems more likely is that much like what could happen with Tyler Mahle, in which Antone heads back to Triple-A to pitch out of the rotation. At least in the early part of the season he could be insurance for a starting pitching injury at the big league level for Cincinnati. As the season goes along, if something pops up in the bullpen and he’s performing well, then things could open up for him to make the move to relief and let those ground ball tendencies play at Great American Ballpark.