Lefthander Anthony Kay, a top Mets pitching prospect and a Ward Melville alumnus, is just one step away from the majors.
The Mets promoted Kay to Triple-A Syracuse on Sunday, a day after his latest — and last — dazzling start for Double-A Binghamton: 5 1/3 innings, no runs and nine strikeouts.
“Whenever you get a chance to move up a level, especially when it’s to Triple-A and just one step away, it’s really cool,” Kay said Monday night by phone from Syracuse. “You think about [reaching the majors] pretty much every day, regardless of where you’re at. It’s good to have that in the back of your mind. ‘All right, I’m pretty close to finally doing it.’ But at the end of the day you need to be able to do the work now to get there.”
Kay, 24, has been doing that work and then some with Binghamton. His 1.49 ERA ranked second among Double-A pitchers. He also had a 0.92 WHIP, .165 opponents’ batting average and 70 strikeouts (to 23 walks) in 66 1/3 innings.
Those last numbers are particularly noteworthy for Kay, who entered the season with specific on-field goals after feedback from coaches: be aggressive with hitters, throw more strikes and get into better counts. Last year, after a midseason promotion to advanced Class A St. Lucie, Kay walked 11.7 percent of the batters he faced. This year, that’s down to 8.8 percent.
Kay attributed that improvement to his sped-up delivery, closer to the way he pitched at UConn, before the Mets drafted him in the first round in 2016. Tommy John surgery delayed his professional debut until 2018, and after the nearly two-year layoff Kay unintentionally became slower in the way he threw pitches.
Early this season, Kay compared video of himself at UConn to video from last year and noticed the difference. He got comfortable quickening his delivery during bullpen sessions before implementing it during games.
“I started doing it in games and it really worked,” Kay said. “Everything just clicked and it feels amazing.”
The Mets had been in no hurry in recent weeks to promote Kay, happy to let him dominate in Double-A after he impressed coaches during spring training, his first on the major-league side.
“We were excited by what we saw during spring training,” general manager Brodie Van Wagenen told Newsday last month. “He’s carried that over. The stuff has been good, the changeup has been a difference-maker for him and he continues to work on fastball command. But the results have been very good so far.”
Kay’s strong start to the season was as important for the organization as it was for him. The Mets’ season-opening rotation depth in the upper minors was and is minimal after they traded their previous closest-to-the-majors starter, Freeport’s Justin Dunn, to the Mariners over the offseason.
That left Kay and another former first-round lefty, David Peterson (4.70 ERA), as candidates for that mantle. Kay ascended, making a summer arrival to Queens very much a possibility.
Also promoted to Syracuse was fast-rising reliever Ryley Gilliam. A righthander picked in the fifth round of the 2018 draft, Gilliam opened the year with advanced Class A St. Lucie. He has a 3.68 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 44 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings with St. Lucie and Binghamton.
Notes & quotes: Joining Syracuse on rehab assignments Tuesday will be Robinson Cano (strained left quadriceps), Brandon Nimmo (bulging disc) and Justin Wilson (sore left elbow). In three games with St. Lucie, Nimmo went 2-for-8. He played centerfield once . . . Former Met Jay Bruce was named the NL Player of the Week for last week, his first with the Phillies. He hit .381 with four homers and 11 RBIs.