When the Rays picked Brendan McKay fourth overall in the 2017 MLB Draft, they were fascinated by the idea of making a two-for-one selection for a player with Shohei Ohtani-like intrigue.With his versatility, McKay has a similar skillset to Ohtani, the Japanese pitching and hitting sensation who signed with the
When the Rays picked Brendan McKay fourth overall in the 2017 MLB Draft, they were fascinated by the idea of making a two-for-one selection for a player with Shohei Ohtani-like intrigue.
With his versatility, McKay has a similar skillset to Ohtani, the Japanese pitching and hitting sensation who signed with the Angels in December.
• McKay among top 10 LHP prospects
A former standout pitcher and first baseman from the University of Louisville, McKay has the potential to impact the big leagues with his arm and his bat. He excels at both. So much so that on Friday, MLB Pipeline ranked the 22-year-old as the No. 1 first base prospect in the Minors.
:: Top 10 Prospects by Position ::
On Wednesday, MLB Pipeline listed McKay as the fifth best left-handed pitching prospect.
Teams are always looking to maximize their rosters, and having the left-handed-hitting and -throwing McKay gives Tampa Bay plenty of options.
"If you can have a couple of guys make it to the big leagues and be successful at it, and do it well enough where it has an impact on the game, you can expand your roster to 26, 27 or even more if you have guys who can pitch and hit, and do it successfully," McKay said in an August interview. "To the point where it's not hurting the team, it's helping the team."
A number of big league clubs have gone to 13 pitchers and 12 position players. Players like McKay and Ohtani have the potential to revolutionize the game.
At the pro level, McKay has had more immediate success on the mound than he did at the plate.
For the Hudson Valley Renegades in the short-season Class A New York Penn League, the lefty had a 1.80 ERA and a 0.75 WHIP with 21 strikeouts and five walks in 20 innings.
At the plate, he had a slash line of .232/.349/.376 with four home runs and 22 RBIs.
In the playoffs, McKay stepped up, pitching the Renegades into the finals. His walk-off sacrifice fly gave his team a victory in the first game of the series, and they went on to complete a two-game sweep of Vermont.
For all the promise and versatility McKay brings to the organization, he's not even the Rays' No. 1 prospect. That distinction goes to right-hander Brent Honeywell.
• Honeywell poised to take next step in 2018
Demonstrating the depth of Tampa Bay's system, McKay is No. 3 on its top 30 list from 2017, and Pipeline has him 20th on its Top 100 list from last year.
With McKay, the talent is apparent. The challenge he and the organization face is finding the balance of recovery time from pitching to be able to play first base and hit.
That's why in the fall instructional league, McKay was completely shut down from throwing. He focused solely on hitting.
"No bullpens, no throwing in games [for McKay]," Rays director of Minor League operations Mitch Lukevics told MLB Pipeline a few months ago. "Just working in the role we envisioned when we drafted him.
"Because he played both ways at Louisville and then at Hudson Valley, we only wanted him to throw so many innings this season. So after he reached that 'stop period,' our focus is now for him to work on his hitting, his defense at first base -- the positional Brendan McKay."
Joe Frisaro has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.