TORONTO — Anthony Kay initially felt disappointment upon hearing he’d been traded from the Mets to the Blue Jays.
Nothing against Toronto. It was simply a matter of geography.
The graduate of Ward Melville High School, who grew up “a die-hard Yankees fan” and emulating Andy Pettitte, no longer was home. No longer home in the purest sense of the word — Kay, 24, was born in Stony Brook — or with the Mets, who drafted him in the first round in 2016.
That was disappointing at first. “For sure,” Kay said Saturday morning, the night after facing the Yankees in his second big-league start. “It definitely would have been nice to be 45 minutes away from my house. But it quickly faded away once I realized this is a good opportunity here. A lot of young guys here with a lot of potential. You see all the talent they have.”
Toronto is flush with young, up-and-coming position players such as Vlad Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Cavan Biggio, but the Blue Jays lack pitching. When they decided to go all-in with their youth movement and looked to deal righthander (and Long Islander) Marcus Stroman, Kay’s name kept coming up from their scouts.
“We’ve got a group of young position players that we’re extremely excited about and feel like we’re aggressively looking to find starters to come up and build a championship core around,” Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro said. “So he was a guy when we started to look at the upper level prospects and particularly starters, he was a guy our scouts felt strongly about, and the objective information backs up the scouting.”
With Toronto’s pitching depth lacking, Kay’s big-league debut occurred far sooner than it would have with the rotation-rich Mets.
“That’s a tough rotation to crack,” Kay said with a smile.
His debut came Sept. 7 in St. Petersburg, Florida, against the Rays. Flashing the curveball that has impressed scouts throughout his development in the minors, he struck out eight in 5 2/3 innings in which he allowed two runs and four hits.
On Friday night, Kay — with a not-quite-as-sharp curve but with a mid-90s fastball that the Yankees had trouble with early — appeared on track to do even better than that. He took a 3-0 lead into the fifth inning before some solid contact combined with shoddy defense behind him contributed to a five-run inning. Kay left with the score 3-3 but also was responsible for two baserunners who later scored. The Blue Jays got him off the hook, though and won in 12 innings, 6-5, on Bichette’s walk-off homer.
“It was definitely really cool to see that I have the stuff to be able to compete with one of the best lineups in baseball,” said Kay, who struck out two and walked one in a 4 1/3-inning outing in which he was charged with five runs and allowed seven hits. “Other than a couple hard hit balls, I felt I limited damage as much as possible.”
Which stood out far more than the final line to his manager, Charlie Montoyo.
“That was good to see because that’s how you find out about guys,” he said. “We didn’t play good behind him in the fifth and he stayed poised. A lot of guys would have crumbled. He stayed cool, he kept pitching inside.”
Montoyo smiled when he was told that Kay, in evaluating his outing, didn’t mention the poor glovework.
“That,” Montoyo said, “tells you a lot about the guy.”
Lou Petrucci, who also coached Steven Matz in high school and has been Ward Melville's baseball coach the past 13 seasons, said it’s par for the course.
“You will never, ever hear him criticize a teammate,” said Petrucci, who traveled to St. Petersburg for Kay’s debut. “Anthony’s the first one to come out [of the dugout] and root his teammates on. He’s one of the best teammates we’ve ever had.”
Kay will enter spring training having every opportunity to win a rotation spot, and talent evaluators believe his curveball-changeup-fastball repertoire gives him a chance to do so.
There’s also his overall no-fear approach, described in various circles as “bulldog.”
How would Kay describe it?
“Going after guys, attacking, not being afraid of going after anyone,” he said.
Two starts into Kay's major league career, that's something that Montoyo has noticed.
“First two outings, he looks like a bulldog to me, and it’s more because he’s not afraid to pitch inside,” he said. “You don’t see that often in young guys coming up to the big leagues and pitching in.”
Shapiro said his talent evaluators saw that — and also something else that should serve Kay well at this level.
“Definitely a guy,” Shapiro said, “that seems to enjoy himself and embrace the pressure rather than be impacted by it.”