Could this Mets prospect be baseball's next unicorn?

April 9th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Anthony DiComo’s Mets Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

ATLANTA -- In 2017, the Rays selected a college junior named Brendan McKay fourth overall in the Draft. Billed as a two-way player who could be a homegrown answer to Shohei Ohtani, McKay wound up undergoing multiple surgeries and giving up hitting. He has appeared in 13 Major League games as a pitcher and 18 as a batter (all in 2019), and is now with Double-A Montgomery.

There’s a reason why many around baseball refer to Ohtani as a unicorn. Nearly all his modern imitators have either abandoned the experiment or outright failed.

Another onetime two-way high school superstar, Hunter Greene, stopped hitting when he turned pro. (Greene started for the Reds against the Mets last Friday night.) Zach Neto went to the Angels in the first round in 2022 and immediately gave up pitching. So it tends to go. A record eight two-way players were selected in last year’s Draft. Two of the top three, San Francisco’s Bryce Eldridge and Kansas City’s Trevor Werner, have already transitioned full-time to hitting.

The other is , whom the Mets selected in the third round out of Oklahoma State. When they did, team officials immediately stated their intentions to develop McLean as a two-way player -- a proposition that remains extremely important to him.

“I want to stay a kid as long as I can,” said McLean, who is scheduled to make his season pitching debut for High-A Brooklyn on Wednesday before shifting to designated hitter this weekend. “Since I was young, it was playing in the field and hitting home runs and pitching and doing everything. Since I was little, I’ve always played multiple sports, multiple positions, and I’d like to stay that way as long as I can.”

It helps that McLean, the Mets’ 19th-ranked prospect, is a preternatural athlete who played quarterback, strong safety, outside linebacker and even punter in high school. He briefly served as a backup QB at Oklahoma State before abandoning that sport to focus on both sides of the baseball diamond.

Since turning pro, McLean has focused on building “a routine that keeps me healthy and keeps me with enough energy to be able to develop on the mound and in the batter’s box.” For now, that means working full-time as a pitcher and jumping in with the hitters at every opportunity. Mostly a reliever in college, McLean noted that his two-way journey has actually become easier since the Mets made him a starter, which gives him a more predictable routine.

“We know we see something very special there,” Mets senior vice president of player development Andy Green said of McLean as a pitcher. “We’ve also seen him hit balls a crazy, crazy long way, and he can do some things with the bat.

“I don’t know when the day will come and if the day will come that a decision has to be made. But there will be points and parts of his game that more than likely progress faster than other parts of his game, and each one of those will be an inflection point for his career choices at that point in time.”

In other words, McLean the pitcher might eventually find himself up for a promotion that McLean the hitter isn’t quite ready to handle. Scouts see him as a more advanced pitcher than hitter, which could eventually force the Mets’ hand.

Until then, McLean will continue to do both. Perhaps he can be the one to break modern trends and become a successful two-way player in the Majors. Perhaps at some point his two-way journey will become impractical.

Either way, McLean intends to see this venture to the end.

“I’d like to do it as long as I can,” McLean said, “and I think I’m with a really good organization to help me do that.”