The arrival of one of the most decorated collegiate players ever, The Rays called up Brendan McKay to make his big league debut this past weekend at home against the Texas Rangers. The lefty went six shutout innings, only surrendering one hit with one walk while striking out three. His 12.4% swinging strike rate indicates more strikeout upside down the line. McKay also made his offensive debut when he hit eighth against the Baltimore Orioles going 0-for-4.
The Rays selected the 2017 Golden Spikes Award winner with the fourth pick in the 2017 draft and gave him a $7,005,000 bonus. He was a force at the University of Louisville, putting up eye popping numbers in the box as well as on the mound on his way to three first team All-American selections. Over his three year career on campus he hit .328/.430/.536 while throwing 314 innings with a 2.23 ERA. His best season was easily in 2017 when he hit .341/.457/.659 with 18 bombs while throwing 109 innings with a 2.56 ERA.
When the Rays selected McKay they immediately announced they were moving forward with the plan to keep him as a two-way player, and this was before the arrival of Shohei Ohtani so it came with plenty of questions. McKay was playing first base everyday, except the day after he starts, and they were keeping him on his collegiate schedule which meant just pitching on Sundays while also limiting him to around 50 pitches per start.
He was assigned to Hudson Valley in the New York-Penn League to begin his career, and his first taste of pro ball was a success as he threw 20 innings with a 1.80 ERA and hit .232/.349/.376 with four homers in 36 games. He’s since stopped playing the field and has started DH’ing, but the two way experiment is still very much underway. While the offensive stats likely aren’t what people expected, his pitching has surpassed expectations. He’s a career .216/.348/.356 hitter, but in his small Triple-A sample this year he’s hitting .265/.400/.551 in fifteen games. His career numbers on the mound are highlighted by a sparkling 1.85 ERA in 165 minor league innings with 212 strikeouts and 34 walks. The Rays haven’t allowed him to surpass the 85 pitch mark in any pro start prior to his call up, so that is something to watch.
Fastball (60 Present/60 Future): McKay’s best pitch is his fastball, and its a plus pitch because of his ability to command it. It’s 92-94 and he can reach back for a tick or two extra when he needs it. He relies on this pitch heavily and is working to sequence better. Can become a bit too predictable with the heater and will go to it when he falls behind in the count. He can also cut his fastball at times, and it can be his best pitch often looking like a hard slider getting in on the hands of right-handed hitters.
Curveball (60 Present/60 Future): The curveball is a true 12-to-6 breaker and he will throw it against lefties and righties. It’s an above average pitch on it’s own, but when you factor in the command it bumps up to plus. He will often steal strikes with this pitch early in at-bats after the fastball has been established and then will rely on it more heavily as the game goes on.
Change (50 Present/55 Future): McKay throws this pitch primarily against righties. It’s deceptive and the arm speed is the same as the fastball but comes in in the 83-85 velocity range. The pitch has some depth to it and plays up a half grade due to his ability to command it. It has flashed plus at times and can become his primary swing and miss pitch against righties.
Pitching Conclusion: McKay showed off his command and Kluber-esque robotic demeanor on the mound during his debut. His six-foot-two frame lacks physical projection but there is room to add some muscle. It’s an athletic build, and one that appears to be able to hold up to the two-way possibilities. McKay has number two starter ceiling for me on the mound, with three above average or better pitches that play up due to plus command and groundball lean. I trust the Rays as much as anyone with this profile.
Hit (40/55): This is an interesting case. On hitting tools alone, McKay would likely be in Double-A right now working on getting the skills to translate to the stat line, but with his arm being big league ready the Rays are also seeing what they have with the bat. The bat speed is above-average. He’s becoming more pull heavy in the last year or so, but does hit a lot of balls on the ground. The Rays have gotten more out of ground ball heavy guys like Yandy Diaz this year so maybe they can work their magic here. McKay has plus walk rates and will work counts, but is often too passive and part of his struggles in the box are due to finding himself in pitchers counts. Again, the Rays are one of the best development organizations and have a raw bat here in McKay to work with.
Power (50 Game/60 Raw): It’s a short, quick swing and the ball will jump off of McKay’s bat. He can leave any park pull-side but will live in both gaps when he’s going right. He’s been working to utilize his lower half more in the the swing and is far from a finished product here. It’s hard to say how the lack of 100% focus on the bat has hindered him here. Look for him to have some 20-25 homer seasons down the road if he gets more consistent reps.
Speed (30 Present/30 Future): Don’t get greedy. The man can pitch and hit, don’t expect him to run. He’s more athletic than he looks though, and can move a bit when underway.
Hitting Conclusion: The bat isn’t big league ready right now, but he’s got future big league tools here. It’s hard to see his college numbers and not get excited about what he could be offensively though. I can see McKay at peak becoming a .250/.340/.450 bat, which will never be as valuable as what he can do on the mound, but will make him a very valuable asset with his skills. OBP league asset here.