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Game Report: Anthony Kay Beats Tulane

STORRS, Conn.—This year’s crop of talent in the Northeast has a chance to make history, with multiple prep arms (Jason Groome, Ian Anderson) in play toward the top of the first round, and a pair of Pennsylvania prep hitters (Nolan Jones, Alex Kirilloff) also being in consideration early in the draft. All four were preseason prep All-Americans.

For as loaded as the region is on the high school side, there’s also talent at the collegiate level. Connecticut lefthander Anthony Kay may be the best college prospect in the Northeast this spring.

On Friday afternoon against Tulane, Kay showed off an encouraging three-pitch mix and promising command. He retired the first 16 batters he faced en route to a 9-4 victory to open up American Athletic Conference play for UConn.

After pitching well for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team last summer, Kay has shown more stable velocity this spring, and on Friday his fastball was explosive in the first few innings, showing arm-side run when he located it away from righthanded hitters, and flashing cut when he went inside with it. Kay sat mostly at 93-94 for much of the outing, touching 95 multiple times on at least one radar gun in the first inning. UConn coach Jim Penders was very pleased with his ace’s performance.

“His fastball location was just excellent. He was executing in and out and we weren’t getting the high strikes,” Penders said. “I thought he did a good job adjusting to the umpire’s zone. I thought he was pretty consistent.”

For the first five innings, Kay had plus fastball command, navigating the bottom of the strike zone well, with his torso getting over his front side well. When he commands his fastball, he’s going to be difficult for any hitter to square up, especially when his changeup works as well as it did against Tulane.

The 6-foot, 187-pound Kay said he’s been throwing a changeup since he was 12 or 13 years old, learning the pitch from Neal Heaton, a former University of Miami and big league all-star lefthander who amassed more than 1,500 innings over a dozen seasons in the majors. Heaton has a reputation as one of the best pitching gurus in the Northeast, working with amateur pitchers in Long Island, where Kay is from.

“It’s usually one of my best pitches, so I kind of go to it a lot,” Kay said of his change. “When it’s on, I usually have a pretty good game.”

The changeup was on for Kay on Friday. He threw it early and often, locating it down and to both sides of the strike zone against righthanded hitters. The pitch shows late fading action at times, while it shows more tumble and arm-side run at others. It was a plus pitch for Kay against Tulane, generating swings and misses often, and inducing poor contact when hitters did manage to make contact with it.

Kay has a tendency to throw his changeup through a slightly lower arm slot, a mechanism that adds to the pitch’s natural sinking action but also can telegraph the offering. While collegiate—and lower level minor league—hitters struggle to recognize these kinds of differences, big league hitters may sniff out the pitch.

The lefthander’s arm action is consistent for his fastball and curveball, with his arm extending fully as he loads up in the back and finds his arm slot. With his changeup, Kay extends his arm through release, reducing the length of the lever and producing less torque. When shaking Kay’s hand after the game, his thick fingers stood out—they allow him to cover more surface area on the baseball. His reduction in torque, as well as his firm grip around the ball, allow Kay to take significant velocity off the pitch; his changeup sat mostly at 83-85 mph, once checking in at 86.

Kay’s third pitch, a curveball, also shows potential. Though it is unlikely to warrant plus projections from scouts, it does show sharp spinning action, and Kay could improve the pitch as he matures. According to Penders, the pitch has taken strides in the right direction during Kay’s time with the Huskies.

“It’s been way better this year than it has been in years past,” Penders said of Kay’s curveball. “He needs that to keep lefties honest, and he threw a few today that were pretty good. He showed a three-pitch mix.”

Kay was on top of the pitch every time, though he threw it sparingly and only against lefthanded hitters. His wrist remains a bit stiff as he releases the curveball, and he could generate more depth on it if he’s able to turn his wrist over at release. Kay has gained better feel for the pitch over the years and found the strike zone with it consistently on Friday.

Kay had a perfect game going through five innings and had showed no signs of letting up. He then lost the strike zone in the sixth, missing when attempting to go down and to his glove side against righthanded hitters. He loaded the bases with three walks, then fell behind against Tulane freshman Grant Witherspoon, one of the Green Wave’s few lefthanded hitters. Kay left a fastball up and over the plate, and Witherspoon got all of it, taking an explosive rip and pulling the ball over the wall in right field for a grand slam.

But Kay wasn’t shaken. The wheels didn’t come off. The Huskies maintained a 7-4 lead, and Kay worked his way out of the sixth before completing his outing with a scoreless seventh. His final line: seven innings, two hits, four runs, three walks and eight strikeouts.

Two scouts told Baseball America that Kay’s fastball reached 95 mph against Columbia in his previous start. Kay’s progress could push him into the back of the first round.

In our most recent draft prospect rankings, Kay checked in as the No. 30 prospect in the class. Some teams may believe him to be the top lefthanded college pitching prospect in the class, given his premium starter velocity and promising offspeed stuff.

Two At Tulane

Tulane has two solid draft prospects in catcher Jake Rogers and shortstop Stephen Alemais, both of whom stick out for their defensive ability.

Rogers was a late cut from the previous iteration of the top 100 draft prospects, and he could move up in the next version of the rankings. He is at least a plus receiver, setting a low target and showing athleticism and flexibility as he receives well to either side of the plate. Rogers’ ability to come up on the ball, coupled with his exceptional hands, could allow him to frame pitches well with experience. He also has excellent arm strength and develops a good rapport with pitchers.

Offensively, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Rogers has quick hands but a stiff lower half. He did not handle Kay’s elite changeup well, swinging over the pitch several times in his three chances against Kay. His strength and makeup could allow him to compete offensively, but his game will always be centered around his defense.

Alemais, a 6-foot, 190-pounder from the Bronx, showed excellent hands and footwork in the infield prior to the game. He moves well laterally and maintains body control when he’s on the move. He showed sound instincts in the first inning; with a runner on second, Alemais got a ground ball, pivoted his feet, and fired a strike to third to beat the runner by a few steps. Alemais rushed one throw on Friday, missing the first base bag. There were two outs, and the error allowed two runs to score. He appeared to have above-average arm strength, though he’ll need to continue refining his internal clock.

Alemais, who has missed time this spring with a left shoulder injury, did not show much with the bat on Friday, striking out in his first trip to the plate before grounding out to shortstop, walking, then popping up. (The strikeout and groundout are shown on the video above).

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