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Rays Top 50 Prospects: No. 4, Brendan McKay

NCAA Baseball: College World Series-Louisville vs Texas A&M Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The next guy on this list, Brendan McKay, was my personal favorite and topped my Rays prospects list. He very well could be the most talented player the Rays franchise has ever drafted — a bold statement, and you’ll see why below.

No.4, 1B/LHP Brendan Joel McKay, 22 years old

Born: December 18th, 1995 in Darlington, PA

Height/Weight: 6’2” 212 lbs Bats/Throws: L/L

Signed: by the Rays after being selected 4th overall in 2017 for $7,005,000

Twitter handle: @Brendan_mckay38

Twitter profile statement: “Professional baseball player in the Tampa Bay Rays Organization. Former U of L 1B/LHP from 2015-2017 #L1C4#Cardnation”

Baseball America Rankings

  • Ranked as the 3rd best Rays prospect post-2017
  • Ranked as the 39th best MLB prospect post-2017

DRB Writers ranking

  • High: 1st
  • Low: 4th

Brendan McKay: Abilities

  • Plus contact and hit tool with developing power
  • Strong arm and fielding abilities at 1B
  • One of the best curves in the system
  • Above-average fastball and cutter to pair with the curve
  • Solid change up
  • A natural ability for the game on both sides that few can match

Fld Grades ‘18 (Pipeline): Hit: 60 | Pwr: 50 | Run: 30 | Arm: 60 | Fld: 55 | Overall: 55

Pitch Grades ‘18 (Pipeline): FB: 55 | Cut: 55 | CU: 60 | CH: 50 | Ctl: 55 | Overall: 55

  • Abilities notes: When MLB Pipeline ranked McKay as the 2nd best draft prospect available in the 2017 draft, they noted the following about his hitting abilities “Some evaluators consider him the best college bat in the Draft and he’s hitting for more power this year” and the following about his pitching abilities “He could add more velo and maintain it better if he focused on pitching full-time, and his fastball command is so good that his heater is effective in the upper 80s. McKay’s curveball is a consistent plus pitch and he’s working on refining a changeup that he hasn’t needed much to this point in his career.”

So to recap — possibly the “Best College bat”, fantastic curve, outstanding command of his fastball and possibly another above-average pitch in the change up once he throws it more often. Incredible.

Joined the Rays by way of...

The draft, and few could be more elated about that than this guy. For a long time I’ve been critical of the Rays for not grabbing the top ceiling guys and instead focusing on other items, such as positional needs (during their chase of a top-end catcher) and toolsy guys (during their OF run) in the draft. That safe approach has led to a questionable list of graduates and only one regular position player on the current roster that was drafted by the Rays.

To sum it up best, when Baseball America graded the Rays 2017 draft, they note McKay as having the best bat, the most power, the best fastball, the best secondary pitch, as having the most intriguing background and as being closest to the majors. It’s pretty hard to top that.

So kuddos to the current front office for putting themselves out there and grabbing the best talent available — and paying what it took to sign him.

On being selected by the Rays, McKay had this to say,

“I was open to anybody,” he said. “If somebody wants to give you a certain amount of money to do that, it’s a job and you’re going to take it if that’s what you want to do.”

Latest Transaction: assigned to Bowling Green from Hudson Valley April 2nd, 2017.

Facts, Honors, and Awards

It’s appropriate that McKay went fourth because that’s also where Dave Winfield went in 1973, and Winfield is the only better two-way prospect in Draft history. I like him more as a position player and the Rays were the first team at the top of the Draft that preferred him that way. He was announced as a first baseman on the Draft broadcast, but I heard the Rays may give him a chance to do both. Stay tuned.

“He was a number one pick in a long line of really good number one picks,” said “From Josh Hamilton to Evan Longoria to David Price. Now we’re anxious for (Brendan) to get started. He has a promising future, based on the potential he showed at the University of Louisville.”

  • Fangraphs ranked McKay 22nd overall pre-2018.
  • McKay led the NY Penn League KATOH rankings put out by Chris Mitchell for 2017 by almost doubling Jorge Guzman’s value - that’s right, double.
  • Just how does McKay ensure he recovers well after tough work? This tells part of the tale,

Stats

Brendan McKay 2017

GP 36
GP 36
PA 149
AB 125
Hits 29
Doubles 4
Triples 1
Home Runs 4
RBI 22
SB (CS) 2 (0)
AVG 0.232
OBP 0.349
SLG 0.376
OPS 0.725
BB% 14.1 %
SO% 22.1 %
ISO 0.144
BAbip 0.281
wOBA 0.350
wRC+ 123
GP 6
GS 6
IP 20
W 1
L 0
H 10
BB 5
SO 21
HR 3
AvgA 0.147
Whip 0.75
BAbip 0.159
LOB% 100 %
GB% 42.2%
FB% 51.1%
HR/FB% 15.8%

Stats Notes: An important note on the pitching side of things is that the Rays started him off slowly on purpose, having him start with two innings and working through to four innings before having him throw five innings his sixth time out. The slow approach paid off, however, as his last start of 2017 (5 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 SO) showed he was still strong despite a very long season that included going all the way through the College World Series.

Interesting Comparison: None

There’s no way to compare Brendan McKay’s overall package because nobody has successfully attempted to do what he’s doing aside from Shohei Ohtani and he’s just begun his career on US soil. The lack of applicable track record makes that comparison null.

So instead, we’ll attempt to match up a comparison if McKay was to stick it out at 1B, and another if he was to stick it out as a LHP. Essentially, they — combined — will be his comparison, with the added low or high because we still don’t know just how much better McKay would be if he focused on one position.

First Base: Eric Hosmer to Joey Votto

Both Hosmer and Votto are LHB 1B who were high OBP guys coming up through the minors with developing power when they were at the rookie or Low-A levels.

In Votto’s case, it took him until he was 21 to reach the High-A level where he hit 17 HR and .256/.330/.425 in 2005. It was in 2006, at 22 yrs old in Double-A, that Votto made a leap to the 22 HR level and accompanying line of .319/.408/.547. However, Votto was not balancing pitching and hitting, making that feat impressive, but likely achievable for McKay if he were to focus solely in hitting and 1B.

Reaching for the Votto level of achievements is a lot to ask for, but should McKay get enough time to focus on hitting, there’s a chance he manages many of his achievements.

A more likely comparison to most would likely be in the realm of Hosmer who hit 6 HR and a line of .241/.334/.361 at the Low-A and High-A levels in 2009 - but he was also only 19 yrs old at the time. Hosmer had made the leap to MLB by the time he was McKay’s age, so this comparison is imperfect as well. However, if you were to ask around at what McKay’s ceiling may be at 1B if he continues to balance pitching and hitting, many would point to what Hosmer’s achieved — 15 to 25 HR, good average, OBP, and SLG combination, and a clubhouse leader as well.

Pitching: Gio Gonzalez to Madison Bumgarner

With the pitching side of things, Gio offers the closest frame and arsenal comparison to McKay’s since he also uses a fastball-curve mix at similar speeds and includes a change up as well. Since he came out of College and began his career in Double-A, as McKay likely would have (High-A/Double-A) if he were only pitching, a stats comparison for the lower levels isn’t possible.

It took until he was 24 yrs old for Gio to put in a full season in MLB and McKay may do the same by that time. Obviously the innings counts will differ, but it’s entirely possible that McKay will be able to match Gio’s performances early on in his career.

Taking things up a notch, if he were able to focus solely on pitching, there’s a chance that McKay could reach the performance levels of Madison Bumgarner. Although he’s never won a Cy Young award, Bumgarner’s been in the top 5 in votes a few times and regularly sat below 3 in ERA and held a whip around 1. That could be McKay’s ceiling as a pitcher in a full time role.

Don’t focus so much on the accuracy of the comparison as much as the level of achievements McKay could compare well to on both sides of the ball. When you have a realistic chance of providing a combination in performance of Eric Hosmer and Gio Gonzalez or turn that up to a Joey Votto or Madison Bumgarner if you focused on one or the other, you know your ceilings are sky high and your floor very high as well.

That’s what makes McKay so special.

Notes for 2018 and beyond

Here’s the thing — you don’t get the second highest bonus ever under current draft rules from the Tampa Bay Rays without having a boatload of talent. And I’d just like to say that from everything I’ve read and heard in Rays fandom, very few are as excited enough about having him in the organization as they should be.

Brendan McKay is the type of player who can change the direction of an organization for a decade — and maybe more if the Rays are willing to pay him and he remains healthy enough. He’s the kind of special talent you dream about, and the Rays have him aboard within a system that’s ranked within the top five by most outlets. So not only is he going to be given the opportunity to make good on his talents, he’ll be a part of competitive teams throughout and will be supported by a very talented cast of players.

That’s an important note, because it’s not like McKay will ever be asked to carry the Rays. He may be one of their most talented players, but they will have the talent to use a six-man rotation if required, or to finish off his games if he’s limited to five innings. They’ll have other hitters that fit in nicely in the middle of the lineup, and if the top prospects in the system pan out, he’s going to join a group that are going to put on quite the show when it comes to getting on base and wearing pitchers down.

We know McKay started the season in Low-A, and some are critical of the assignment. Based on talent alone, McKay could have begun the 2018 season in Double-A and held his own. How well he would have done is debatable, but that wasn’t the Rays focus when they assigned him to Bowling Green.

The Rays want to make sure McKay has a solid mechanical base to build on and the repertoire to be effective when he gets to The Show, and you don’t make those adjustments as solidly when you’re facing such stiff competition as Double-A would provide. Instead, they decided to start him off slowly, building up innings along the way and gaining in confidence before challenging him with one — and maybe a second — promotion this season.

It may be the more sound approach and may be the best option to make his ceiling as high as possible. After all, even if he ends the year in Double-A, he’d still be on track to make an appearance in MLB at age 23 or 24, which is how old Shohei Ohtani is making his first splash in the league.

There was no other prospect I was pulling for the Rays to draft and sign more than McKay, and if you imagine the hype guys like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Ronald Acuna are getting this year being what McKay will receive next year, that’s about where I stand on his abilities. He’s going to grow on a lot of people — if he hasn’t already — and will be one of the many reasons Rays baseball takes off to a never-seen-before level from 2020 onwards.

Brendan McKay: Spotlight Videos

Recap and links of previously listed DRB Top 55 Rays Prospects

*Note: rankings were adjusted and reflect recent additions to the system - it is now a Top 55 list