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Tampa Bay Rays: Brendan McKay a better hitter or pitcher?

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After one professional season, the jury might be still out on whether Brendan McKay is a better hitter or pitcher

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

Back in June, the Tampa Bay Rays were able to draft Louisville first baseman/pitcher Brendan McKay with the fourth pick in the MLB Draft. McKay is one of two players that pitched and played a position in the field that were taken in the top five (Hunter Greene was taken second by the Cincinnati Reds).

Earlier this month, the Reds made the decision that Greene will be a pitcher only going forward after he tried doing both at short-season Billings. As for McKay, the Rays haven’t made that decision yet as he is down in Florida in the instructional league.

On the Baseball America Rays roster, McKay is listed as an infielder. With Short-Season Hudson Valley, McKay hit .232 with four home runs, 22 RBI’s, and had an on-base percentage of .349. His 21 walks were also the fourth most on the Renegades team that won the New York-Penn League championship.

When he took the mound, McKay never threw more than five innings in a game, but had impressive numbers. He had a 1.80 ERA and struck out 21 batters in 20 innings. The 21-year-old left-hander (turns 22 in December) gave up just four runs, which is good considering he gave up three home runs.

Now, the Rays gave McKay a chance to do both things this summer and we will see what decision they decide to make. At Louisville, he had 18 home runs in his junior season and slugged .659. While he had some good moments at the plate, it is clear he had more success with Hudson Valley on the mound.

Last week, I talked with Hudson Valley play-by-play announcer Josh Caray about what stood out to him when he watched McKay this year. Here is what he said about his offensive game and his arsenal on the mound:

“Brendan is a natural ballplayer. Fluid swing, and aggressive on the mound. Even when he is fooled on a pitch, the ball flies off of his bat. You don't see that very often at this level. When guys get fooled, they hit toppers or little flairs. He is still able to hit a line drive with ease when he is off balance. Needs to get better with recognizing off-speed pitches. He is susceptible to anything down and in right now.

“On the mound, he [McKay} is aggressive and tenacious. Knows what he wants and plans to do with every hitter that comes to the plate. And VERY COMPETITIVE. He saved his best for last in the final game of the semifinal series against Staten Island when everything was on the line and held them to one base-runner in five innings. Needs to keep his pitches down though.”

When you look at the state of the Rays organization right now, they have good young pitching with Jacob Faria, Brett Honeywell (Triple-A), and Jose De Leon just to name a few.

As for the offense, the minor league leader in Tampa’s organization in home runs was Low-A Bowling Green outfielder Justin Williams (15). Casey Gillaspie also had 15 for Triple-A Durham, but was traded to the Chicago White Sox in late July.

You could make the case McKay might make more of an impact at the plate in the future for his power as the Tampa Bay Rays have a proven track record of developing young pitching (i.e David Price, Chris Archer just to name a few examples).

Back in March, John Sickels wrote up the draft profile on McKay and talked about his opinion about which position he stands out as more:

“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.”

My other question to Caray was about what he thinks McKay will be in the Rays organization moving forward. Here’s what he replied:

“Going forward, he is right now a better pitcher and it really isn't close. He seems more comfortable on the mound right now, but the sample size is so small I don't know how it would translate to a full season. I also wonder how much playing a full college season with playoffs, College World Series, etc., plus a three-week layoff, impacted him with the Renegades. I THINK he could become a heck of an everyday player, but he has to understand that every guy he faces was a weekend starter in college and that guys are more refined even in the New York-Penn League than they were in the ACC.”

“If I am the Rays and Brendan, I am HOPING Brendan becomes an everyday player. Seven million dollars without throwing a pitch or taking a swing in professional ball is a lot. If I want to get the most out of that seven million, I want to see that investment pay off for me on a daily basis...not once every five days.”

When we look back at this draft a few years from now, McKay will be one of the names that stands out. But, the question still remains? Will he be a full-time hitter or pitcher? Only time will tell.