Ask BA: Will Two-Way Talents Be Allowed To Do Both?
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BA: You are correct that both Greene and McKay are legitimate first-round talents either as hitters or pitchers. In Greene’s case, he’s a later first-round pick as a shortstop and the potential top pick as a righthander with a 100 mph fastball and an easy, athletic delivery. You can find scouts who see McKay as a potential Top-10—even top-five pick—as a hitter as he has one of the best pure bats in this year’s draft. He has a track record of hitting and has an impressive .388/.522/.645 stat line two-thirds of the way through the 2017 season. But he’s also seen as a top-of-the-draft talent as a lefthander with control, feel and quality stuff. He’s seen to be one of the surest bets in this draft as a pitcher and he's performed as a pitcher, going 5-1, 1.83 with 83 strikeouts and a .180 average against in 59 innings as Louisville's Friday starter.
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The Southern League was stacked with prospects this year, with perhaps its greatest quantity and variety of position players in a long time.
So yes, both Greene and McKay would seem to be logical candidates to pull a Shohei Otani and both hit and pitch. But I don’t think you’d ever see it happen.
The chances of a team sending out Greene as a shortstop and a pitcher is nil. There’s enough wear and tear on a pitcher’s arm (especially one who can throw 100 mph) to not consider letting them ever make throws from the hole as well. Even for a first baseman such as McKay, teams are going to want them to rest and recover, rather than sweat and work on their fielding between starts on the mounds.
There’s just too much money and too many resources devoted toward developing top draft picks for a team to go so far out of the box as to develop a player both as a pitcher and a hitter, even as just a designated hitter.
The last first-round pick who was given the chance to do both in the same season was Red Sox’s 2008 first-round pick Casey Kelly. Boston liked Kelly as a pitcher, but he preferred playing shortstop, and he had plenty of leverage as a two-way player who also was signed with Tennessee as a quarterback.
To help ensure he'd sign, Boston let him play shortstop in the Gulf Coast League in 2008, then had him pitch in the first half of 2009 before moving back to shortstop in the second half of the season. After a poor stint in the Arizona Fall League as a hitter, he came to his own decision to focus on pitching. Boston got what it wanted–Kelly as a pitcher–they just had to wait a little while to let him come to his own decision.
It would be hard to see a team letting either Greene or McKay do anything like that going forward because of the potential increased risk of injury or the possibility that working on both hitting and pitching would slow their development path.