While the attention of the baseball world is focused on Opening Day, scouts are already out in earnest studying college and high school players for the 2017 MLB Draft in June. The top high school prospect is right-handed pitcher/shortstop Hunter Greene, a candidate to go first-overall to the Minnesota Twins. The best college player at the moment is clearly Brendan McKay, a left-handed pitcher and first baseman from the University of Louisville.
McKay is also a candidate for the Twins at number one, and like Greene he is a two-way talent. Let’s take a look at what he offers.
As a high school player in Pennsylvania, McKay was well-known to local scouts but was firmly committed to the University of Louisville. Despite late buzz he fell to the 34th round in the 2014 draft, where he was selected by the San Diego Padres. He went to college instead and quickly emerged as a two-way force, hitting .308/.418/.431 in 211 at-bats as a freshman and .333/.415/.513 in 228 at-bats as a sophomore. His pitching was even better than his hitting: 1.77 ERA in 97 innings as a freshman with a 117/34 K/BB, followed by a 2.30 ERA in 110 innings as a sophomore with a 128/42 K/BB.
His junior year has been terrific so far: he’s mashed at the plate (.431/.556/.667 in 72 at-bats) and has been almost unhittable on the mound (1.13 in 32 innings with just 19 hits, 55/7 K/BB).
McKay is a left-handed hitter and thrower, listed at 6-2, 220, born December 18, 1995.
If you want the bat, McKay features a mechanically-sound swing described as “simple and direct, yet explosive” by Perfect Game. There’s no shortage of bat speed. He can pull the ball for power or line pitches the opposite way. His strike zone judgment is excellent and his approach is professional. He projects as a .300 hitter with a high on-base percentage and at least moderate home run power. As a defender he features a strong arm for first base (obviously) and is mobile and athletic for his size.
As a pitcher, McKay features a 90-94 MPH fastball along with one of the best curveballs available in the draft class. His change-up has taken a step forward this year. His command of all three pitches has been stellar in the early going. Mound presence and a smooth, repeatable delivery are also positives and he won’t need much time in the minor leagues. So far he’s had no issues staying healthy.
There was some question about long-term home run power projection pre-season, with McKay projecting more as an Eric Hosmer/Wally Joyner type of first baseman rather than a pure power masher. However, he looks to have gotten stronger in the off-season and there are fewer doubts about the home runs now. He doesn’t steal bases, but no one expects him to do so.
As a pitcher, he doesn’t have a blazing upper-90s fastball that turns heads, but he’s been overpowering even without a gaudy radar gun due to the quality of his secondaries and his command. His fastball is just fine for a lefty.
The only real “weaknesses” on either side of the ball amount to nitpicking.
McKay won’t need much time in the minors as either a hitter or pitcher. He was viewed as a legitimate top ten pick either way pre-season due to his combination of upside and polish, and his dominance in both roles has moved him into the top five with a chance to go first-overall.
My personal sense is that McKay has just a tad more potential on the mound, in the sense that it is more difficult to find a dominant starter than a regular first baseman. If he gets hurt or pitching doesn’t work out for some reason, he can always move to first base later.
Video from Jheremy Brown:
Video from Jeff Nunn
Video from Steve Givarz