Next up on our list is another pitcher ... kind of.
15. 1B/LHP Brendan McKay
Acquired: No. 4 pick by Rays (2017)
League Top-20 ranks: 1 (2017 New York-Penn League)
McKay is not the only current prospect who is on the list. However, he is the only one who has just two months of professional playing experience.
Obviously, that makes his placement on this list very difficult. Because this is a retrospective feature, I decided to only look at him as the prospect he is now. I believe that if this feature is being done again to celebrate 25 seasons, he will rank higher. For purposes here, though, I’m not going to project anything.
It doesn’t require any projection to see that McKay, with his pedigree, is already one of the best prospects in franchise history. He was one of the most decorated players in the history of college baseball thanks to his enormous two-way talent. He won the John Olerud award for best two-way player all three years he played for the Cardinals. If he only hit, he’d have been a top-five pick. If he only pitched, he’d have been a top-five pick.
The Rays allowed him to do both in his professional debut with Hudson Valley in the New York-Penn League. It was quite similar to his schedule with Louisville. Until the very end of the season, he only pitched on Sundays. The rest of the week, he played first base or served as the Renegades’ designated hitter.
He did well in both roles, but he did have a slow start at the plate. Thanks to his .826 OPS over his final 13 games as a hitter, McKay finished with a .725 OPS and four home runs in 149 plate appearances. That may seem underwhelming, but it was 70 points above the league average.
On the mound, he was sharp from the start, although it is fair to point out he never faced an entire lineup twice until his last start of the regular season. He didn’t allow a run in his first four appearances, which totaled 11 innings, and in 20 innings, he struck out 21, walked just five, and had a 1.80 ERA.
McKay’s two-way talent was not always apparent. When he was ranked by BA as the No. 166 player in the 2015 draft, its scouting report for him didn’t even mention his bat until the last sentence, noting, “he has enough aptitude with the bat to be a two-way player.” ($)
That ability quickly emerged on campus. The Padres drafted him in the 34th round, seemingly with no chance to sign him. He won ACC Freshman of the Year and was named National Freshman of the Year by numerous publications. In addition to his exploits on the mound, he became a key cog in a lineup that featured several other futures high picks in the draft.
He built on that success as a sophomore, continuing to pitch well on one of the nation’s best teams, and he improved at the plate as well. He raised his OPS 78 points with nine more extra-base hits in just eight additional plate appearances. McKay continued to rack up accolades from his league and publications.
McKay’s junior season was his best, probably on both sides of the ball. On the mound, his strikeout and walk rates set new career highs. At the plate, he destroyed all previous career marks. His average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage were all up. He walked more than he struck out. He hit 18 home runs after hitting 10 combined his previous two seasons. He won the Golden Spikes Award as best amateur player.
In the organization’s history, McKay is the ninth player selected with the fourth overall pick or higher. That alone didn’t merit inclusion on this list, but it certainly didn’t hurt. He had an outstanding amateur career, and the Rays have an incredible opportunity to develop one of the most uniquely talented players in recent history.