Rays two-way prospect Brendan McKay may be a major league pitcher. Right now, today. If he were only a pitcher, it’s fair to wonder whether McKay would already be in the majors.
According to Baseball America, that’s the chatter among scouts right now:
There are scouts who believe Rays LHP/1B Brendan McKay would be better served by scrapping the offensive part of his game and instead focusing on pitching. If he does that, he could be knocking on the door of Tampa Bay in short order.
The Rays have honored their commitment to McKay to let him remain a two-way player, although this season, he’s only batting as the designated hitter and not playing first base, not unlike Shohei Ohtani. The Rays have upheld their end of the bargain, is it wise for the player to hold himself back if he could be helping the major league club now?
As a pitcher, McKay has been nearly untouchable. In four starts at Double A, McKay has a 2.41 ERA, 1.95 FIP, and an astonishing 1.01 xFIP. He’s allowed five earned runs on 12 hits and four walks in 18 2⁄3 innings and has struck out 33 of the 70 batters he’s faced, giving him an eye-popping 47.1% strikeout rate — coincidentally, the same strikeout rate that got him promoted to Class A-Advanced Charlotte last season after six Class-A starts.
As a hitter, it’s been a different story. McKay has a .180/.271/.200 batting line, good for a 44 wRC+ in Double A, where hitters are first exposed to breaking pitches more akin to what’s to come at the major league level. Pitching is where McKay is dominating his peers, and if he were only a pitcher, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him already up in Triple A, knocking on the door of the majors.
Is McKay more advanced than his competition in the minors? That’s a fair question. Despite rolling with two openers in the rotation, the Rays have previously successful major league arms in Triple A now in Jake Faria (5.82 ERA in 21 2⁄3 IP and Ryan Yarbrough (8.10 ERA in 16 2⁄3 IP in MLB), as well as three Tommy John rehabbers working their way back, led by Jose De Leon, who begins his rehab assignment Saturday. If McKay were in Triple A now, the window could be open.
At the major league level, the Rays have Jalen Beeks and Yonny Chirinos, as well as Wilmer Font and Casey Sadler in the long relief roles. Could McKay edge one of those names to break in with the Rays?
This season, McKay would likely be limited to facing lineups twice in the majors. In his minor league career, he has only exceeded 18 batters faced in six starts, totaling 15 batters.
Plotting McKay’s course against the college pitcher drafted right after him — Braves prospect Kyle Wright — is not necessarily fair in that Wright has been in the majors but may not be ready. With a cup of coffee in 2018 and three starts this season, he has a 6.30 ERA in 20 innings. His 2019 starts have not gone well, and that includes his work in Triple A.
Ultimately, whether McKay would like a quick rise through the minors likely depends on what the player wants. If he’s determined to be a hitter, so be it. But the Rays could use the help.