With Major League Baseball's regular season nearly over, we decided it would be worthwhile to check in on some notable prospects who we haven't yet touched upon.
Entering the summer, we named a prospect for every team who could make an impact this season. We selected Tejay Antone for the Reds, but reader, we did not expect him to strike out 37 batters in 29 1/3 innings, or for him to have a 2.86 ERA in nine appearances (four of them starts), or for him to have all red bulbs in the percentile rankings on his Baseball Savant page.
Antone's surprising performance has coincided with some unanticipated gains. Instead of touching into the mid-90s, his fastball is sitting in the mid-90s. His slider, meanwhile, has turned into a swing-and-miss monster that has coerced whiffs on half of the swings taken against it.
The Reds moved Antone into their rotation in late August. It's worth the look, even if it's to be determined if he can stick in that role. He doesn't have much of a changeup, and left-handed hitters have posted a .759 OPS against him in 50-something plate appearances; right-handers, in a similar amount of exposure, have a .477 OPS versus him.
The worst-case scenario here is that Reds return Antone to a multi-inning relief role. Pitcher, team, and analyst each would have found that to be a great outcome a few months ago.
As with Antone, Matt Foster is a pop-up reliever whose improved velocity has enabled him to establish a foothold in the majors during this most unusual of seasons.
Foster is a departure from Antone in other regards. He's listed at 6-foot-nothing and he relies a little more on deception. His arm stroke is short and his high three-quarters release point is tall. He's also a fastball-changeup pitcher, which is far less common for relievers than fastball-slider types. He imparts backspin on both of them, and has succeeded so far by stair-stepping his way to a 1.45 ERA and 4.60 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 15 outings. That'll play, that'll play just fine.
Foster isn't going to keep up this level of performance, obviously, but there's enough here to envision him having a permanent home in the White Sox bullpen heading forward.
Coming into the summer, the Blue Jays did not appear likely to have a good relief staff. To their credit, they've proven that assertion to be incorrect en route to posting the fifth-best unit ERA in the majors, behind the Athletics, Dodgers, Braves, and Cleveland.
Jordan Romano, who is currently on the injured list because of digit numbness, has been a big part of that success. In 15 outings this season, his contact rate is under 60 percent. Romano's delivery is what would happen if you melded Jake Arrieta's mechanics with, say, James Karinchak's fidgety manner. His arsenal, meanwhile, is pure power. An upper-80s slider serves as his primary pitch, but he's more than capable of elevating his mid-to-upper-90s heater, too.
Provided Romano can return in time for the playoffs, he's one of the Blue Jays likeliest to see his stock improve with national exposure. Not too bad from a former returned Rule 5 draft pick.
Though it feels like Justus Sheffield has been around forever (he was drafted in 2014), he won't celebrate his 25th birthday until next May. His youth has been an important aspect to keep in mind as he's struggled to find sustained success at the big-league level. Entering this season, he was sporting a 5.82 ERA (76 ERA+) and 1.76 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 38 big-league innings.
Sheffield's fortune has improved this year. In eight starts, he's posted a 4.06 ERA (105 ERA+) while recording more than 2.6 times as many strikeouts as walks. He's also throwing more strikes, which is an encouraging sign for someone who has battled control and command woes, and who switched his primary fastball to a sinker over the winter.
Unfortunately, the pitch-level results don't suggest Sheffield's sinker is an effective offering. Opponents have hit .311 against it, as compared to the fine marks generated by his trademark slider (.180) and changeup (.206). It's possible that he'll have to alter his pitch mix heading forward to emphasize his secondary offerings at the cost of his sinker. We'll see.