PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The Rays and Brendan McKay will be trying out something new this season, as they continue to look for the best way to develop the two-way player through the Minor Leagues.
McKay will continue to be a two-way player for Tampa Bay, but his schedule will look a little bit different than it did in 2018. The schedule will consist of having McKay pitch one day, take the following day off and then serve as the team’s designated hitter until his next scheduled start.
The decision was made in order to keep McKay -- Tampa Bay's No. 3 prospect -- fresh for an entire season, while also allowing him the necessary time to get as much work done at the plate as possible.
“We were just trying to figure out a way to take some stress off my body,” McKay said of the decision to make him a designated hitter. “The goal is to bring [the hitting] up to where the pitching stands.”
Last season, McKay looked sharp on the mound, compiling a 2.41 ERA through three levels in the Minors. While he found success as a pitcher, the 23-year-old struggled at the plate, finishing with a .214/.368/.359 slash line.
When the Rays decided to take McKay with the No. 4 pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, they knew there was going to be a learning curve with how to handle a two-way player moving through the Minor League system. Developing a two-way player isn’t comparable to what the Angels did with Shohei Ohtani, since he was ticketed for a spot on the big league roster when he signed out of Japan.
“They’re learning just as much with me as I [am] with myself,” McKay said. “I’m learning what it takes to keep myself healthy through the season, how to be prepared, be focused and prevent injuries. Managing all that stuff is tough.”
The move to make McKay strictly a pitcher and a designated hitter doesn’t change the fact that the Rays are still hoping he ultimately makes it to the big league level as a two-way player. When the Rays approached McKay with the idea, he said he felt okay with the decision.
“I’m fine with it,” McKay said. “It might take a little bit of an adjustment since I won’t be going to first base every couple of days and I’ll be sitting in the dugout a little bit more, but I’m just taking it how it is and moving on.”
McKay said that he learned a lot about himself last year due to his struggles at the plate and dealing with a pair of oblique issues. He said the biggest takeaway from last season was the adjustments that he had to make on a daily basis, especially as a two-way player. Overall, though, McKay doesn’t see last year as a disappointment.
“It was disappointing for the fact that I missed a month and some change,” McKay said. “I took it as finding out a lot about myself and there were some good things to take away and some bad things.”
While his goal is ultimately to make the big league club as a two-way player, he admitted the thought of having to choose one side of the ball has crossed his mind. It’s not something he thinks about often, but it’s a decision that he feels ready to make if it becomes necessary.
“I’ve thought about it,” McKay said. “It’s like if you’re in Triple-A and the team asks if you want to pitch in the big leagues the next day, it’s not like you’re going to say ‘no, I’ll stay in Triple-A.’ It’s all just situational.”