Ryan L. Fox
In 2018, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim signed Japanese baseball superstar Shohei Ohtani signed to a 1-year, $2.315 million contract. At first glance, it didn’t seem like a big deal. However MLB was not prepared for what Ohtani brought to the table: a two-way player that could not only at pitch at a high level but also hit for both contact and power.
Although injuries have limited Ohtani to just being a hitter as of late, many wonder if this was just going to be a ‘one-in-a-generational’ player or a quick fad. However, as it turns out, in the Tampa Bay Rays farm system there is a similar player that fits that two-way player model of a high level pitcher and a power hitter. That player is SP/DH Brendan McKay.
Full Name: Brendan Joel McKay
Date of Birth: December 18, 1995
Birthplace: Darlington, Pennsylvannia
Age Going into 2019 Season: 23
Primary Position: Starter
Secondary Position: First Baseman/Designated Hitter
Acquired: Drafted in 1st Round by the Tampa Bay Rays (4th overall) during 2017 MLB Amateur Draft
School: University of Louisville
Background Prior to 2019
McKay was drafted out of the University of Louisville as the 4th overall pick in the 2017 MLB Amateur Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays. He was then signed and assigned to the Hudson Valley Renegades in Short Season-A of the New York-Penn League. McKay displayed his versatility with the Renegades, splitting time between pitching and playing first base.
As a pitcher, McKay appeared in 6 games while starting in all 6, going 1-0. He pitched 20.0 innings, allowing 10 hits, 4 runs (all earned), walked 5 batters, and struck out 21. McKay also accumulated an ERA of 1.80, a WHIP of 0.75, a K/9 of 9.5 and held opposing batters to a combined .149 batting average.
At the plate, McKay appeared in 36 games as a first baseman or designated hitter. He accumulated a .232 batting average (29-for-125) while hitting 4 home runs, getting 22 RBIs, drawing 21 walks, striking out 33 times, and stealing 2 bases. McKay also had an OBP/SLG/OPS line of .349/.376/.725.
McKay also appeared in all 5 Renegade postseason games during the teams’ 2017 Championship run in the NY-Penn League with 4 at 1B and 1 as a pitcher. In his 4 games at the plate, McKay went a combined 2-for-16 (.125) with 4 RBIs, 3 BBs, 2 R, and 2 Ks. His lone game as a pitcher came against the Staten Island Yankees in Game 3 of the 1st round. McKay went 5 innings, allowing just 1 hit, and striking out 6 batters to pick up the W in the team’s 7-2 victory.
Prior to the start of the 2018 MiLB season, McKay was ranked as the No. 3 prospect in the entire Tampa Bay Rays farm system and the 22th ranked overall prospect according to MLB.com. He was also promoted to Single-A to play for the Bowling Green Hot Rods in the Midwest League.
As a pitcher, McKay appeared in 6 games, starting in all of them, going 2-0. He pitched in 24.2 innings, allowing 8 hits, 3 runs (all earned), walked 2 batters, and struck out a whopping 40. McKay also accumulated an ERA of 1.09, a WHIP of 0.41, a K/9 of 14.9 and held opposing batters to a combined .096 batting average, the lowest in his minor league career (excluding minor rehab games).
At the plate, McKay appeared in 21 games splitting time as 1B and DH. He accumulated a .254 batting average (16-for-63) while hitting 1 home run, getting 16 RBIs, drawing 28 walks, and striking out 13 times. McKay also had an OBP/SLG/OPS line of .484 (the highest OBP in his minor league career)/.333/.817.
Then on May 14, McKay was promoted to the Charlotte Stone Crabs of the Florida State League in Advanced-A. However once at Advanced-A, McKay’s promising 2018 season hit a bumpy road.
After an 8-6 victory over the Dunedin Blue Jays (the Advanced-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays), McKay ended up suffering an oblique injury and was placed on the 7-day disabled list on June 15. After a brief rehab stint with the GCL Rays, McKay was activated off the disabled list on July 18. But then on August 30, McKay landed back on the 7-day disabled list with the same type of injury and finished the 2018 season there.
During his injury-filled season with the Stone Crabs, McKay appeared in 11 games, starting in 9 of them, while going 3-2. He pitched in 47.2 innings, allowing 45 hits, 18 runs (17 earned), walked 11 batters, hit 1 batter, and struck out a 54 more. McKay also accumulated an ERA of 3.21, a WHIP of 1.17, and a K/9 of 10.3 while opposing batters were able to hit a combined .256 batting average against him. The 3.21 ERA, 1.17, and .256 opposing batting average were highest in his minor league career.
At the plate, McKay appeared in 32 games splitting time as 1B and DH. He accumulated a .210 batting average (25-for-119) while hitting 5 home runs, getting 39 RBIs, drawing 44 walks, and striking out 38 times. McKay also had an OBP/SLG/OPS line of .317/.403/.720. The 39 RBIs, 44 walks, and 38 strikeouts were all career highs for McKay.
Like his 2018 season, McKay’s 2019 has had a lot of ups and downs. However instead of being due to injury, it was more due to the fact of being called up and sent down so many times between the minors and the majors.
Prior to the start of the 2019 season, McKay was ranked as the No. 3 prospect in the Tampa Bay Rays farm system and the 69th prospect overall according to MLB.com.
He was also invited to Spring Training for the Tampa Bay Rays before being assigned to Double-A with the Montgomery Biscuits of the Southern League prior to the start of the season. During his time in Double-A, McKay had a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde experience.
As a pitcher, McKay enjoyed tremendous success. He appeared in 8 games, starting 7 of them and pitched a total of 41.2 innings. He allowed just 25 hits, 6 runs (all earned), hitting 1 batter, walking 9, and striking out a career high 62 batters. McKay also accumulated a 1.30 ERA, a WHIP of 0.82, had a K/9 of 13.5, and held opposing batters to a combined .172 batting average.
At the plate, it was a different story.
In 23 games with the Biscuits, McKay ended up hitting for a career low .167 average (13-for-78) with just 8 RBIs, 7 walks drawn, and 27 strikeouts. He also had career lows for his OBP/SLG/OPS line of .256/.192/.448.
But because he was very dominant on the mound, McKay was promoted up to Triple-A to the Durham Bulls of the International League on May 26.
While being at the Triple-A level, McKay’s numbers improved both on the mound and at the plate. He also has had 3 call ups to the major league level during his time with the Durham Bulls.
So far, McKay has appeared in 6 games for the Bulls, starting in 5 of them and pitched a total of 29.0 innings. He allowed just 16 hits, 4 runs (3 earned), hitting 2 batters, walking 8, and striking out 32 batters. McKay also accumulated a career low ERA of 0.93, a WHIP of 0.83, had a K/9 of 9.9, and held opposing batters to a combined .163 batting average.
At the plate, McKay has played in 20 games, hitting a .239 batting average (16-for-67) with 5 home runs, 11 RBIs, 10 walks drawn, and 24 strikeouts. He also has an OBP/SLG/OPS line of .346/.493/.839. Both his SLG and OPS were both career highs.
Because of the success he was having at both Double-A and Triple-A (mostly as a pitcher than hitter), McKay was selected to represent the Tampa Bay Rays in the MLB All-Star Future Game on July 7. However he was called up to Tampa Bay at the major league level on June 29 and could not participate in the game (only prospects with no major league experience could participate).
McKay was first called up to the Tampa Bay Rays back on June 29.
He made his MLB debut against the Texas Rangers at Tropicana Field, starting for the Tampa Bay Rays. McKay ended pitching 6 innings, allowing just 1 walk and 1 hit while striking out 3 batters as the Rays won on the final score 5-2.
Since then, McKay has been going back and forth between the majors and Triple-A. Usually McKay was called up to start a game that very same day before then getting set down 1 or 2 days afterwards.
Recently, McKay was called up to start against the Boston Red Sox on August 1 in the final game of a 3-game midweek series. McKay ended up going 5.1 innings, giving up 7 hits, 3 runs (all earned), issued 1 walk, struck out 7 Red Sox batters, and was awarded the win as the Rays won on the final score of 9-4 to complete the series sweep.
Overall, McKay has appeared in 5 MLB games, starting in all of them, going 2-1. He pitched in 24.2 innings, allowing 27 hits, 12 runs (all earned), walked 2 batters, and struck out a 25 more. McKay also accumulated an ERA of 4.38, a WHIP of 1.18, and a K/9 of 9.3 while opposing batters were able to hit a combined .273 batting average against him.
However during his time in the majors, McKay has only appeared in one game in a non-pitching role. It was against AL East Divisional Rival Baltimore Orioles on July 1 at Tropicana Field. McKay played DH, batting 8th in the lineup, and ended up going 0-for-4. The Rays ended up winning the game on the final score of 6-3.
Currently, McKay is ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the Tampa Bay Rays as well as climbed all the way to being the 15th overall prospect according to MLB.com.
Already the Rays have currently stated that they will rule out using McKay at any other position than DH for the remainder of the 2019 in hopes of trying not to overwork the young player. All signs point to the Rays as using McKay more as a pitcher than hitter at the major league level (5 game appearances as a pitcher compared to 1 game appearance as a DH).
It’s extremely rare for a two-way player to succeed at the major league level due to the amount of stress and strain being put on the body to play two different positions.
Like Ohtani, McKay will eventually come across that giant fork in the road that could shape the remainder of his MLB career. Will he continue career as a pitcher or as a batter in the role of 1B/DH? Regardless of what the Rays decide to do, McKay has proven that he is a key player to build around for the Tampa Bay Rays
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