The Tampa Bay Rays made it clear that Brendan McKay, arguably the best two-way Draft prospect since Dave Winfield in 1973, would play both ways in his professional debut after signing with the organization for $7,007,500 as the No. 4 overall pick.
That's what McKay, ranked No. 3 on the Rays Top 30 and No. 19 overall, did during his time with Class A Short Season Hudson Valley this summer, appearing in 36 games as a positional player (or as a designated hitter) and making six regular-season starts on the mound.
This fall during Rays instructional league, however, McKay has a singular focus.
"He's coming into instructs as a positional player only," Rays Director of Minor League Operations Mitch Lukevics said. "No bullpens, no throwing in games. Just working in the role we envisioned when we drafted him."
McKay was nothing short of remarkable as a Louisville junior, going 11-3 with a 2.56 ERA and a school-record 146 strikeouts while also hitting .341 with 18 home runs. The performance earned him the Golden Spikes and Dick Howser Awards as college baseball's top player, and he claimed his third straight John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award as the top two-way player.
In pro ball, McKay found more immediate success on the mound than he did at the plate, posting a 1.80 ERA and a 0.75 WHIP with 21 strikeouts and five walks across 20 innings (six starts). Offensively, the left-handed hitter finished with a .232/.349/.376 line, four home runs and 22 RBIs.
McKay also starred in the NYPL playoffs, pitching the Renegades into the finals, and then walking off Game 1 with a sacrifice fly in an eventual two-game sweep of Vermont in the best-of-three series.
Yet, McKay's showing as a hitter this summer had nothing to do with the Rays' decision to keep him from pitching this fall. After a long season between the college and professional ranks, the organization has decided to cap McKay's workload on the mound.
"Because he played both ways at Louisville and then at Hudson Valley, we only wanted him to throw so many innings this season," Lukevics said. "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."