One of the big things that happened for the Cincinnati Reds in 2020 was the emergence of Tejay Antone at the big league level. Entering spring training he was a solid prospect with a good breaking ball who was a bit older than your typical prospect. But when he came out throwing in the upper 90’s he went from a guy who looked like some pitching depth to a guy who could be a difference maker in some role. And eventually that’s what happened as Antone joined the team on the second day of the regular season, and barely looked back as he posted a 2.80 ERA in 35.1 innings from four starts and nine relief appearances that saw him strike out 45 batters and put up a 1.02 WHIP.

With the loss of Trevor Bauer and Anthony DeSclafani to free agency, the Cincinnati Reds seem to have two spots open for the taking in the rotation. Tejay Antone is battling for one of those spots along with Michael Lorenzen, Wade Miley, José De León, and Jeff Hoffman.

“I prepared as a starter,” said Antone. “There’s an opportunity to have that job and I’m going to do my best to take it. But I do also understand that if I don’t get that role that I will probably be a reliever. And I will probably throughout the season be in that hybrid role again, and I’m totally fine with that. I prepared this offseason as a starter and I’ll definitely be starting in spring training and kind of going after that role.”

While Tejay Antone has only started four games in the big leagues, he made 109 starts in the minor leagues with just two relief appearances. One of those came following a rehabbing pitcher when he was in rookie ball, and the other was in 2019 right before the All-Star break. He’s always been a starter and he’s handled a workload over a full season three different times since he was drafted. He missed all of 2017 after having Tommy John surgery, and missed part of the first half of 2018 as he recovered – but made 26 starts for Louisville and Chattanooga in 2019 and threw 146.1 innings on the year.

With a strong rookie debut out of the way, the right-handed pitcher didn’t take things for granted that he could just go out and do it again. He spent the offseason working on improving what he felt was something that didn’t work so well during the 2020 season.

“My fastball last season wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be in terms of just the way it was spinning,” said Antone. “I had pretty poor spin efficiency last year. I was getting away with it because I was throwing a little harder, but I was getting hit pretty good in the zone and I wanted to improve, just kind of the spin metrics in terms of spin efficiency, not really increasing spin or anything but just spinning it more true. I was just like cutting it off, just getting around the fastball a lot last year. So this year, that was my whole focus this offseason, staying through the ball and allowing the spin to work for me and kind of ride through the zone a little better.”

It’s interesting to hear that Antone was working on his spin in the offseason. Well, sort of. He notes that he wasn’t spin efficient rather than he was working on adding more spin. When it comes to the spin itself – the revolutions per minute – Antone is among the best in the game. His 2625 RPM spin rate on the fastball was better than 98% of pitchers in baseball last year. His curveball averaged nearly 3000 RPM and was higher than 95% of other pitchers curveballs in the game last season. He can spin the ball with the best of them. But spin alone doesn’t tell the whole story. As Antone notes, you need to spin it efficiently to get the best results. His belief (and the data tends to back it up) is that he can get better results by changing the direction the ball spins a little bit.

It’s not just the fastball, though, that Tejay Antone liked what he saw this offseason. His slider, which was already one of the better better sliders in baseball – it ranked 25th best among 158 pitches who threw at least 30.0 innings last year according to Fangraphs – is one he believes is going to be even better this year.

“Based off of what I’ve seen this offseason with my slider, I think my slider’s going to be different this year to say the least,” said Antone. “I think it’s going to be game changing.”

For as good as the slider was last season, on a per-pitch basis, it was only his second best offering last season. His curveball was more valuable and was the 3rd best curveball in the game according to Fangraphs among pitchers who threw a curveball at least 3% of the time during the season and threw at least 30.0 innings.

The fastball was the focus of the offseason, though, mostly. And from a metrics standpoint, it was league average according to Fangraphs pitch values – a perfect zero. It wasn’t above-average or below-average in even the tiniest way. If the pitch shows some improvements at all, and the two breaking balls continue as they were last year, Tejay Antone could be throwing three different above-average pitches to hitters in the upcoming season. He was already outstanding – if he’s going to step forward from that, look out, regardless of the role that he ultimately winds up in.

26 Responses

  1. AllTheHype

    That’s pretty exciting stuff. Thanks for the research and report Doug.

  2. DaveCT

    Head to head vs. Lorenzen, I’d put my money on Antone in a competition for one rotation spot. No pun intended.

    • MBS

      I like Lorenzen’s pitch mix better. It should allow him to go longer into games than Antone would be able to. I got a funny feeling both will get starting opportunities this season. It’s hard to get through a season with only 5 starters.

      • DaveCT

        My true choice is both. My main concern with Michael is i think he can become unglued a bit at times. That might make him a better rotation piece though, fewer high leverage situations. Time will tell.

  3. JB

    I just hope the best two get the job. The last thing I want is Miley to get a spot because he is a veteran even though he had a terrible spring. Jason Marquis anybody? The horror…

    • DaveCT

      If thats the case, give me Bronson and his 65 mph heat

  4. Redsfan4life

    I hope Antone and Lorenzen grab the last two spots. I don’t wanna see Miley in the rotation.

    • JayTheRed

      Its hard to say what we will get out of Miley, The little he pitched last season was not very impressive at all. But he was recovering from injury and again it was Covid 19 time so who knows how he was mentally prepared.
      In 2019 he had a very impressive season with the exception of one month at the end.

      Plus an added note Miley is getting paid bigger money he will be given a good opportunity before someone else would be able to move in if he’s failing.

      • Reaganspad

        I agree. Miley to the pen, give us 3 lefties.

        TJ and Michael in the rotation

  5. MBS

    What a concept, maybe the MLB needs to pay attention.

    “The NFL has informed teams that the 2021 salary cap will be no lower than $180 million, a slight increase from last year’s previous agreement between the league and the NFL Players Association.”

    • AllTheHype

      MLB owners would love it. Unfortunately the CBA is a contract between two parties.

      • MBS

        @Michael, you’re 100% right. It’s like Walmart competing with a mom and pop grocery store. They are unevenly matched, and Walmart wins every time. The disparity is only increasing, and MLB needs to make some changes to make a more competitive sport.

    • Doug Gray

      MLB needs a spending floor far more than they need a spending limit. Four teams have payrolls UNDER $50M right now. Another one is at $55M. Another one is at $67M. That’s a 20% of the league that’s under $70M. The national television contract money given to each team each season is $67M. That doesn’t include local TV money. That doesn’t include any radio money. Nothing else – just the national television contract and those teams are already paying for their payroll (and a lot more in four of those cases).

      • Doug Gray

        The players consistently prove they love the sport. The owners continuously prove that they don’t. I’m not really sure what kind of proof you’re looking for if you don’t see that.

      • Michael Smith

        This is true. The other thing that really makes things screwy compared to NFL and NBA is the revenue sharing. The vast majority of revenue is tied to national tv contracts and other advertising that is equally split. There are no local tv deals for NFL and the NBA money on their regional deals are peanuts compared to national tv deal. Compare that to the regional deals that teams like the Yankees and Dodgers have and you have another massive hurdle to a salary cap and floor. Tampa could legitimately imo say we cant spend 120 million

      • Doug Gray

        Why can’t they compete if they spend $150M?

      • Doug Gray

        That’s not how it works. If the Dodgers have an injury they can’t just go pick someone up for cash unless it’s the offseason – which is the exact same situation any other team has.

        Joey Votto’s contract isn’t killing the Reds right now. The Reds not being willing to spend more money is.

        Can the Dodgers go out and spend more money? Yeah, they can. So can the Reds. So can the Pirates. All of these teams CAN. Most of them simply choose not to do so. Most teams, on television contracts alone, bring in over $100,000,000 a year (National + local). That’s before a single ticket, hat, hot dog, luxury box, beer, parking pass, or sponsorship at the stadium or being an official partner of the organization has been sold. The Reds problem with competing against the Dodgers is because the Reds have been cheap for far too long. In the last two plus decades the Reds have spent money in the top 15 in baseball, what, like 4 times? They’ve never been in the top 10 in that span, or even remotely close to the team with the 10th highest payroll. If you win, people show up, and you make more money. But the economics of the game today means that winning doesn’t mean you won’t make profits because the TV deals are so good and they are locked in for a decade (nationally) or two (locally). As long as a team can avoid 1950’s level attendance, they’re going to make money whether they’re the 2003 Tigers or the 2016 Cubs. Owners treat these teams as cash cows rather than sports teams for the most part. That’s the problem – the owners care more about how they can maximize profits over trying to win and make a little less money along the way. Invest long term and it’ll work out for your franchise unless it’s run by the dumbest people alive. Be cheap and you’ll still make money, but your team is probably going to suck unless you are run by the smartest people alive (in the game). Usually the smartest people wind up with the teams that are willing to invest, eventually.

  6. JayTheRed

    I’m with Doug on this one. Baseball needs to have a league minimum. If you can’t do that then you shouldn’t be owning a team. Set it at 75 million and slowly raise it over a 10 year period. Maybe at the end of the 10 years its 100 million.

    One thing that might prevent this from happening is the fact we live in America. How can you tell someone Hey you have to spend this much of your money. Kinda seems like it would not be the American way to run things. You could make the same argument for a Salary Cap too though.

    • Matt WI

      I don’t think telling them they have to spend X is a problem- it’s like access to country clubs. Here’s your layout- You must pay X dues and Y amount in use of dining/amenities to be a part of this group. Don’t want to? Don’t join. Especially since the organization spots them $67m from tv, as Doug states above.

  7. SultanofSwaff

    Look around the division. No one has a sleeper pitcher like this on their roster….a guy with 3+WAR potential fighting for a spot in the rotation. It speaks to the pitching depth and gives me optimism. Heck, I’d put Tyler Stephenson in that category as well with enough at-bats.

  8. doofus

    As Starter, top line
    As Reliever, 2nd line

    Antone 3.86 16.1 14 3 10 18 .237/.357/.441
    Lorenzen 2.79 9.2 7 0 2 14 .200/.263/.229

    Antone 1.89 19 6 1 6 27 .097/.183/.194
    Lorenzen 4.88 24 23 3 15 21 .250/.352/.413

    • doofus

      Both Lorenzen and Antone should be important to the Red’s staff in 2021.

      Small sample, but Lorenzen looks like he was the better starting pitcher in 2020.

      Factor in that he can hit and I would give the nod to him as a starter in 2021 over Antone.

  9. Harold

    Jose DeLeon sounds like he could be a real sleeper if given the opportunity. Had an excellent Winter League. Who will be the manager for next year? I keep thinking Bell will get better, but I saw no signs of that last season. I like him, but the lack of creativity as a manager is very obvious. Hope he will look to use Lorenzen more and more in the field and at the plate. I think he shows promise as a starter and then you have 4 days to use him at the plate or in the field.

    • Frankie Tomatoes

      Who should Lorenzen play in the field over? He’s simply not a better option than any of the outfielders the team has. He’s a better fielder than some of them, so perhaps you could put him in as a defensive replacement for Winker or Cast. But is that risk worth it when the defensive upgrade from Lorenzen to whoever the 5th outfielder is making any sense that a potential injury costs you a starting pitcher? He’s not Shohei Ohtani.

  10. Hotto4Votto

    The rotation and bullpen make up will be interesting to follow. Not accounting for injuries, it appears that 2 of Lorenzen, Antone, DeLeon, and Miley will be in the rotation and the other two in the bullpen.

    As far as bullpen makeup, there’s not a lot of option-able players for the Reds. This may make things interesting at times as it would reduce the Louisville to Cincy shuttle, and may lead to a bigger pitching staff than normal (providing there’s no limits on the amount of pitchers on the roster).

    According to Fangraphs, Garrett, Sims, Hoffman, Romano, Ramirez, and DeLeon are out of options. Doolittle, Bedrosian, Lorenzen, and Miley have enough service time to reject assignment. That’s 10 guys vying for rotation/bullpen spots that cannot be sent to the minors without risking waivers. Antone is the only one in the mix for bullpen/rotation that has options remaining. Will that come into play?