Rays Commit To Developing Brendan McKay Both Ways
While the Angels' Shohei Ohtani gets all the attention given his accomplishments in Japan and high-profile signing, baseball’s next two-way player is happy to toil in relative obscurity.
Brendan McKay will start his first full pro season at low Class A Bowling Green, content to work his way through the Rays' system to establish himself as a starting pitcher and first baseman/DH.
And the 22-year-old McKay doesn’t see what the big deal is.
"As much as people kind of want to make a big deal about it to me," said McKay, who bats and throws lefthanded, "it’s just what I’ve been doing for 18 years . . . since I started playing."
Both hitting and pitching through high school is somewhat common, but what set McKay apart is that he got the opportunity to continue doing so at the Division I college level, and that he excelled both ways at Louisville.
"It’s simple," farm director Mitch Lukevics said. "He did it. He did it. This young man has done it at his highest level of competition to date. Everybody else in the world says, 'I can hit and I can pitch,' but they’ve never done it to the degree that Brendan McKay has. And he did it so well he was College Player of the Year."
Drafted fourth overall in 2017, McKay got a 42-game taste of pro ball at short-season Hudson Valley last year, and he's now ready for the challenge of a full pro season, where there are 140 games in 151 days.
McKay is considered by scouts as more advanced as a pitcher, and his significantly structured workload is based on his mound work. The Rays plan to have him work in a six-man rotation and play first base or DH in the days before and after he starts, with one day off after his long bullpen session.
To McKay and the Rays, the physical test of the five-month season is the biggest challenge. They want to see how his body—specifically his arm—holds up to the rigors of playing every day. The Rays have already made some accommodations, like cutting down on his throwing during infield work.
But skeptics wonder if McKay has the talent to play both ways, and if he will have the time to properly develop in both areas. But McKay doesn’t want to choose between hitting and pitching any time soon.
"Personally I want to do it as long as it takes me,’’ he said, "but I’d obviously be open to anybody who says, 'Hey, this is what we’re seeing' . . . So I would take their insights."
For now, the Rays won’t even consider it.
"This is absolutely no gimmick," Lukevics said. "This is for real. This is every day, seven days a week, that we’re getting Brendan McKay prepared to take on a full season and (work) as a starting pitcher and first baseman . . . We’re absolutely pumped about it. And we feel very strongly he is the right guy for it."
Southern League Top 20 Prospects For 2019
The Southern League was stacked with prospects this year, with perhaps its greatest quantity and variety of position players in a long time.
• As if losing top prospect righthander Brent Honeywell and once-touted righty Jose De Leon to Tommy John surgery this spring weren't enough, the Rays got more bad news when outfielder Garrett Whitley, the 2015 first-rounder, required shoulder surgery and will miss the season.
• The spring surprise turned out to be 26-year-old outfielder Johnny Field, who took his bid for the final big league roster spot down to the final day, when the Rays opted to go outside the organization and acquire Rob Refsnyder. Field and Refsnyder were teammates at Arizona and are good enough friends that Refsnyder had Field in his wedding.