Scouting Mets Prospect #17: Michael Antonini

Antonini pitched his way up the rankings in 2008

The New York Mets selected left-hander Michael Antonini in the 18th round of the 2007 draft and saw solid results during his first summer. It was rather unknown what role Antonini would fill following his rookie season, but he shot up the depth chart in 2008 by showing the ability to handle every level he pitched.

Vital Statistics:
Name: Michael Antonini
DOB: August 6, 1985
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 190
Throws: Left
Bats: Right
Status: 18th Round Pick (2007) – Georgia College and State University

"I'm happy with how my season ended up. Being able to move up two levels and make some starts in Double-A, after thinking I'd probably finish in High-A after getting experience in Savannah, was a great feeling," said Michael Antonini.

For the 23-year-old left-hander, 2008 was as eventful as any pitcher on the farm. He was originally assigned to the Savannah rotation following his role as a swingman in Brooklyn in 2007, but that was just the start. Perhaps his season debut was an omen of things to come when he took the ball as the Opening Day starter for the Sand Gnats and pitched six hitless innings.

Antonini led by example as the front man in the Savannah rotation, racking up a 4-4 record and 2.71 ERA in 13 starts. Soon after, he was off to St. Lucie where he experienced his hottest streak of the season. Over the course of seven Florida State League starts, he went 4-0 and allowed just nine runs over 44 innings with 33 strikeouts against seven walks.

The biggest surprise was yet to come as just three weeks into his stay in St. Lucie, Antonini was off to Binghamton—a move he rarely considered at the beginning of the season.

"Once I found out I was going to Savannah to start the season, I told myself I hope to end the year in St. Lucie and pitch well there. I had no idea I'd be able to get to Binghamton and try and finish the year there," he said.

He predictably found his toughest challenges in Binghamton, but the strength of his changeup kept him ahead of hitters and softened his adjustment to Double-A. In eight starts with Binghamton, Antonini went 1-3 with a 3.74 ERA and figured he could have been worse off if not for his off-speed pitch.

"There was a lot of adjusting to the new hitters, especially in Double-A where the hitters have tons of experience and they can hit a lot good pitches, so having the ability to throw a 2-0 or 3-1 changeup couldn't be a question mark, and was actually normal for me," he said.

"My changeup was there for me the whole year and having the confidence with that pitch helped because at those levels the hitters may think you only have a fastball and then when you throw the changeup in fastball counts, you can really mix it up."

Antonini builds his entire game around mixing it up, changing the hitter's tempo, moving the ball around the strike zone, but he is extremely efficient in doing so. In 162 2/3 innings—only behind Jonathon Niese's system-leading 164 innings—he walked just 39 batters while the opposition hit .228 off him. That efficiency brought praise from pitching coordinator Rick Waits.

"In his good games, he does not throw a lot of pitches. He goes right after the hitters and figures out how to get them out with the least amount of pitches as possible." he said.

The second-year southpaw was the first pitcher in the system to move two levels in-season, but he does not take the promotions for granted. More than anything, it reinforced his desire for consistency.

"Working with the pitching coaches and building a routine that I could stick with no matter the level I was at really gave me a good foundation for now and the future. Getting that experience in Double-A already really makes it a totally successful season and now I'm ready and excited to start the next season."

Year

Team

W-L

IP

Hits

BB

K

ERA

2008

Binghamton

1-3

45.2

43

16

32

3.74

2008

St. Lucie

4-0

44.0

34

7

33

1.84

2008

Savannah

4-4

73.0

63

16

61

2.71

2007

Brooklyn

0-0

19.2

13

5

12

0.46

2007

Kingsport

1-1

17.0

16

2

18

3.71


Repertoire: Fastball, Slider, Changeup

Fastball: When Antonini arrived out of college, his four-seam fastball topped out at 86-88 MPH, but through improved strength and conditioning, his velocity increased to 90-92 MPH. By speed alone it is not a dominant pitch, but his ability to change levels and use it on both corners away to hitters makes it especially valuable. He gets some natural tailing action on his fastball, but location is paramount.

Other Pitches: Antonini's changeup is his best secondary pitch. He throws it in the mid-70s and gets good tumbling action through the strike zone. The improvement of his changeup was aided by his increase in velocity, but he is not afraid to throw it as he gets many harmless fly balls and generates a high number of strikeouts with it. He needs greater consistency with his slider, specifically a proper release point to induce necessary downward action with it. He attempted to use his slider as a finishing pitch in two-strike counts, but would often overthrow it which caused it to flatten out. When thrown with a relaxed, composed motion, his slider shows the break to be a reliable third pitch.

Pitching: Antonini works at a fast pace, uses all of his pitches and maintains a strong command of the strike zone. He has a traditional three-quarters release point, but as noted his mechanics can sometimes become flawed with his slider. He improved his slide step and ability to pitch from the stretch this past season which were shaky prior to the season. However, he is still working on his pick-off move and needs to do a better job managing the running game. He pitched more to contact in his first season, but increased velocity and his changeup have enhanced his ability to get strikeouts when needed.

Projection: His overall growth surprised many within in the organization and shifted the belief that his future was destined for the bullpen. His slider should become sharper and more consistent in his remaining time on the farm which will establish him as a solid fourth man in the rotation. But if the slider never comes around as expected, Antonini would make for a valuable swingman who can eat innings out of the bullpen and spot start when needed.

ETA: 2010. His rapid ascension up the ranks moved his debut up one year following last season's projection. He will likely return to Binghamton in 2009 with a distinct possibility of seeing time in Triple-A some time later in the summer. One more full season on the farm is best for his development, but it would not surprise us if the Mets called on him next season if the need for a lefty reliever were to arise.

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