Red numbers are good. Do you see any red numbers in the image below?
You do. I do. We all do...or, did.
That’s how Cincinnati Reds pitcher Tejay Antone stacked up against his peers during his breakout 2020 campaign, showing the world that he not only had the stuff that made scouts drool in bullpens, but also had the ability to make it translate into big league games.
Across 52.2 innings of relief work spanning 2020-2021, Antone pitched to a 2.05 ERA that was tied for the 10th lowest among the 207 MLB relievers who logged at least 50 IP out of their ‘pens. His 2.85 FIP was similarly impressive, checking in at 19th among that sample of hurlers. As a late-inning, multi-inning hammer, he emerged as perhaps the single most stabilizing force on the Cincinnati staff before that fateful night in August of 2021 when his right elbow gave out on the mound in Milwaukee.
He’d eventually go under the knife for Tommy John surgery, the second such time he’s dealt with near complete elbow reconstruction. He’s apparently on track for a return to spring training in 2023 with expectations that his electric stuff is still there and harnessed, and the thought of replacing some of the godawful IP we watched from last year’s bullpen with Antone’s is enough to make me jump around the room a little.
The welcome returns from both Lucas Sims and Tony Santillan are absolutely of note, as that trio should help completely reconstruct the nature of the team’s relief corps around the emerging Alexis Diaz. It’s still Antone, though, who sits poised to be perhaps the single most impactful comeback in the entire Cincinnati organization.
Here are a few other notable comebacks we’re anticipating during the 2023 season within the Cincinnati system:
Lyon Richardson, RHP - (22 years old)
Richardson, a former 2nd round pick, was plucked out of high school due mostly to his 98 mph fastball. His velocity slipped as a professional, however, and post-pandemic he was sitting mostly in the mid to low 90s with that offering before he also needed Tommy John late in 2021. He was apparently back up to 99 mph during instructional league work late in 2022, however, and looked good enough to warrant addition to the Reds 40-man roster prior to the most recent Rule 5 Draft. Whether or not he’s still used as a starter or moved to a relief role, it’s clear Richardson is still very much being counted on as an arm the Reds intend to use in the near future.
Bryce Bonnin, RHP - (24 years old)
Bonnin has already had a rib removed during his stint as a pro, a surgery that was needed after his rather violent delivery broke it entirely. That’s not even why he’s listed on the ‘comeback’ list, however, as it was a shoulder impingement during the 2022 season that had him shut down most recently. Between those two ailments and the 2020 pandemic, we’ve only managed to see him pitch in a grand total of 72.0 IP as a pro since being picked in the 3rd round of the 2020 draft. When healthy, however, he’s been positively dominant, owning a 99/29 K/BB as a pro, and if his velocity returns with a healthy shoulder he could potentially slide into a relief role in short order.
Jackson Miller, C - (21 years old today...Happy Birthday!)
2 for 4 with a pair of walks, pair of ribbies, and a run scored. That’s the extent of Miller’s entire professional career at the plate after being a 2nd round pick in 2020 (and signed for a big pile of money to get him to eschew his Wake Forest commitment and turn pro). All that, it’s worth pointing out, came in the Arizona Complex League in 2021, and we’ve not seen him at all since then. He’s dealt with both ulcerative colitis and hernia surgery, and that’s kept what’s supposed to be an advanced left-handed bat and top-tier athleticism from showing out. Maybe, just maybe, this is the year he finally gets the chance to unleash that talent on the baseball world.
Jacob Heatherly, LHP - (24 years old)
Another Tommy John surgery comeback we’re watching is with Heatherly, formerly a 3rd round pick out of Cullman HS (Alabama). After throwing just 8.2 IP for Dayton (then low-A) in 2019, he missed all of 2020 like everyone else due to the COVID pandemic, only to return in 2021 to fire just 8.2 more IP in ACL play before needing surgery. In other words, he’s a lefty who we’ve barely seen for three whole years, but he’s a lefty who has struck out 9.3 per 9 IP during his 95.2 overall professional IP (even if the walks have been nearly as numerous). The ever-present search for southpaw pitching means he’ll likely get plenty of chances to show he’s healthy again, which means we may well get to see him show what he’s got in Goodyear in just six more weeks.