One of my favorite things about college baseball is the presence of truly dominant two-way players. I can’t stress enough how riveting it is to watch your starting center fielder go 4-for-4 with a dinger and a couple dazzling catches, then get to watch him close out a game on the mound by slinging mid-90s fastballs past hitter after hitter. On the flip side of things, watching your starting pitcher bat in the middle of the lineup and be a legitimately terrifying slugger is equally fun.
Several former Mariners have had the pleasure of filling the role. Jason Vargas hit 16 home runs over his college career and slashed .354/.469/.531 in his junior year at Long Beach State. Danny Hultzen never posted an OBP lower than .382 at Virginia. John Olerud has an award named after him because of his accomplishments (more on that later).
This week on From the Crow’s Nest, we’ll be looking at perhaps the most dominant two-way player in all of college baseball: Louisville LHP/1B Brendan McKay.
At A Glance
McKay may only be 21-years-old and in the very early stages of his third season with Louisville, but he’s already been showered with awards and accolades over his collegiate career. His trophy case includes the following, per Louisville’s official website:
- 2015 & 2016 John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year
- 2016 First Team All-America (ABCA, D1 Baseball, Baseball America, and NCBWA)
- 2015 & 2016 All-ACC First Team (Starting Pitcher)
- 2016 All-ACC First Team (Utility/Designated Hitter)
- 2015 Freshman of the Year (D1 Baseball, Collegiate Baseball, Baseball America, Perfect Game)
- 2015 First Team All-America (BA, D1 Baseball, NCBWA, Perfect Game)
- 2015 ACC Freshman of the Year
- Many, many, many more
Let’s look at how McKay has performed thus far in his Louisville career from a statistical perspective.
Here he is as a hitter:
And here he is on the mound:
All the information here is correct. So far in his junior season, McKay has slashed .621/.683/1.138 while managing a .517 ISO. In 2001, Barry Bonds–in a year in which he hit 73 home runs–posted a .536 ISO. In 2017, Brendan McKay has been just a pinch below 2001 Barry Bonds while also being one of the most dominant starting pitchers in the country. This is a tiny sample and you shouldn’t interpret these words as me saying Brendan McKay = Barry Bonds, but I do want you all to understand how hilariously amazing he’s been through the first few weeks of the season.
The Rundown (Brendan McKay: Position Player)
The first thing that sticks out when you watch McKay hit is how clean of a swing he has. There isn’t a ton of effort or exaggerated movements. There’s no thunderous leg kick or heavy load. It’s all just a calm, fluid movement with loud, booming results.
He looks fairly polished up there, as well, rarely producing a poor quality at-bat and effortlessly using the entirety of the field.
My biggest concern with McKay as a position player moving forward is echoed by MLB.com’s scouting report on him:
If he concentrates on hitting, he could get stronger and develop solid or better power, though his bat speed is somewhat ordinary.
You can see the bat speed issue a little better in the in-game video below:
Poor Bat speed and any resulting lack of power won’t exactly break a prospect, but considering that first base is the only position that really suits Brendan McKay: Position Player, it helps you understand why teams feel he’s a far safer bet to reach the major leagues as a pitcher.
In the field, McKay fields his position well and possesses the obviously strong throwing arm. Defense would not be a concern with him moving forward.
The Rundown (Brendan McKay: Starting Pitcher)
On the mound, McKay has two primary offerings: a low-90s fastball that he’ll bump up to 94 at times and an above-average curveball that settles in that 78-81 range. The curveball–a hard, biting offering that tends to drop out of the sky–has the most potential of the two offerings, in my opinion. When he’s spotting it, the pitch looks close to impossible to square up, and McKay generates a lot of whiffs with it. His third offering is a subpar changeup, but considering he’s yet to devote all of his time to pitching, there’s reason to believe he could improve the offering plenty moving forward.
McKay commands his arsenal well and has posted tremendous strikeout rates all throughout his college career. Given his athletic frame and the previously mentioned lack of a total devotion to the mound, there’s plenty of intrigue regarding how much better he’ll get when he makes the complete switch. Be it developing the ability to work deeper into games, polishing his current arsenal, or even developing a fourth pitch, the possibilities are exciting.
The delivery doesn’t really have any quirks, which is always a welcomed sight with college pitchers (looking at you, Virginia). He doesn’t seem to possess any overly bad habits his next team will need to break him of.
How likely is he to be available when the Mariners pick?
Don’t fall in love with the idea of McKay being on the board when the Mariners are on the clock. The potential he has on the mound, mixed with the general lack of star power in this draft, likely means someone will grab him in the top-ten, especially if he keeps up his current performance level. I’ll predict he goes somewhere in the No. 7 to No. 9 range.