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Anthony Kay's Pro Career Finally Gets Off The Ground

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(Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

ASHEVILLE, N.C.—The Mets waited quite a while for Anthony Kay to get on the mound.

They drafted Kay in the 29th round out of high school in 2013, only to watch him go to UConn. They drafted him again in the first round in 2016, but Tommy John surgery wiped out what should have been his first two years of pro ball.

Finally, in 2018, Kay is on the mound and pitching in the Mets' organization. For both the 23-year-old lefthander and the organization as a whole, it’s been a long time coming.

Kay pitched four innings without allowing an earned run in his pro debut with low Class A Columbia on April 8, and on Saturday he delivered his first quality start as a professional, throwing six innings with four hits and three runs allowed, one walk and five strikeouts.

More than the results, finally pitching in actual games has counted as the biggest win for the Mets' No. 14 prospect.

“It’s been a long two years, I’m finally glad to be back on a mound,” Kay said. “It wasn’t the most fun process not being able to really complete or anything, but I’m glad I got through it.”

The Mets drafted Kay with the No. 31 overall pick in 2016 after he set UConn’s school record for strikeouts, but his physical turned up an elbow injury. The Mets held him back from sending him to an affiliate after signing, and Kay ultimately had Tommy John surgery in October, wiping out his 2017 season as well.

Two seasons sitting on the sidelines nursing an injury wasn’t fun, but Kay made the most of it, getting stronger throughout his body and making sure he would be better than ever when he returned.

He pitched his first innings in instructional league last fall, and by the time spring training rolled around this past February, it was hard to tell anything had ever been wrong.

“That was the first time I saw him, in spring training, and I was really impressed with what I saw,” said Columbia pitching coach Jonathan Hurst, a former Mets reliever. “And not knowing what he had been through right away, when I found out I was like, ‘Wow, this kid doesn’t even look he’s had anything done.’ He was just out there competing and stuff-wise, it was just plus stuff I was seeing from him.”

The plus stuff has been a recent development for Kay post-surgery. Kay sat 90-93 mph and touched 95 pre-surgery, but in his last start sat 92-96 mph, holding 94-95 in the early innings and finishing at 92-93. His curveball feel is coming back seemingly every inning, and by the end of his second outing he was spinning it for called third strikes on both sides of the plate against righthanded hitters.

He hasn’t even really started using his changeup, which was considered his best pitch out of college as potential plus, swing-and-miss offering.

“Once spring training rolled around I started to feel really good, thinking I was better than I was before,” Kay said. “A lot of people say they get a little bit of velo from (surgery) so I wasn’t too surprised, but it feels good.”

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Kay still has some kinks to work through, understandably. His fastball command isn’t where he wants it to be—it often sails high out of the strike zone, particularly at its higher velocities—and he’s still nailing down the consistency of his breaking ball.

At the same time, he and the Mets right now are more focused on the basics, just getting him comfortable pitching under the lights in games that count again.

“Our focus is just getting him to pitch games,” Hurst said. “He’s a guy that right now, by him not pitching, we want him to just go out there and use his best stuff, go out and compete right now. He’s a very intelligent guy, he knows what he’s trying to do out there, he asks all the right questions…. He’s filling in those spots he’s missed a little bit the last two years.”

Kay knows filling those gaps in will take time. He’s not worried about rushing the experience or trying to accelerate the timetable.

For now, he’s just happy to be back on a mound, doing what he loves.

“I just want to be on the mound,” Kay said. “I’m not really too concerned about the results. It’s just really, really good to be back on the mound and throwing.”

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