2017 Draft Profile: Brendan McKay
School: University of Louisville; Class: Junior
Position: 1B/LHP; B/T: L/L
Height: 6-2; Weight: 220
Previously Drafted: San Diego Padres, 34th round, 2014
Background: Easily the most intriguing talent in college baseball in 2017 – and quite possibly over the past several seasons – McKay is not only in the running for the best hitter in this year’s draft class, but his performance on the mound has some thinking his future could eventually be on the mound as well.
McKay, a well-built, 6-foot-2, 220-pound southpaw born in Darlington, Pennsylvania, has garnered a laundry list of accolades throughout his illustrious career. After slugging .308/.418/.431 to go along with some stellar work on the mound (96.2 IP, 1.77 ERA, 117 K, and 34 BB) as a true freshman, McKay was named ACC All-Freshman Team, ACC Freshman of the Year, Freshman All-America by several outlets (D1Baseball, Baseball America, NCBWA, Perfect Game), Collegiate Baseball Freshman of the Year, and the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award. The hulking southpaw also earned a spot on Team USA as well.
The following season, 2016, McKay more or less maintained his two-way dominance: he slugged .333/.414/.513 with 19 doubles, a pair of triples, and six homeruns while finishing with a 2.30 ERA across 109.2 innings while averaging 10.5 K/9 and 3.45 BB/9. And, of course, the national recognition continued:
- All-ACC First Team (utility player/designated hitter)
- All-ACC First Team (starting pitcher)
- Louisville Slugger Third Team All-America
- Perfect Game Second Team All-America
- NCBWA First Team All-America
- D1Baseball First Team All-America
- Baseball America First Team All-America
- ABCA First Team All-America
- John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year
McKay also starred on Team USA during the summer as well, hitting .326/.372/.434 to go along with a 1.35 ERA in 13.1 innings of work.
The Pennsylvania-born lefty raised his production on both sides of the ball during his junior campaign this season. Through his first 44 games with the Cardinals, McKay is batting .390/.511/.747 with eight doubles, one triple, and a career best – by a long shot – 14 homeruns. On the mound, he continued to twirl gems: 67.0 IP, 95 K, and just 16 BB.
Projection: Not your typical two-way player like Michael Lorenzen, who performed admirably with the bat but was always destined to become a pitcher. So let us break down McKay’s abilities separately.
To put things into proper perspective, consider the following:
- Between 2011 and 2016, there have been two hitters that have averaged at least an 18% walk rate, a strikeout rate between 10% and 15%, and slug at least .700 (minimum 170 PA): Kris Bryant and Will Craig, both of whom were first round picks. If McKay continues to perform as he has, he would be the third member of the group.
Heading into his junior campaign it looked almost certain that the Louisville first sacker had the ceiling as a poor man’s – albeit serviceable – Eric Hosmer once he transitioned to the professional ranks. I would have likely slapped a third round grade on him as a hitter. But his power’s really blossomed into a reliable, above-average, repeatable skill. At the time of this writing, he’s currently among the nation’s most prolific homerun hitters.
McKay complements his thump with an impeccable eye at the plate: he’s sporting a 21-to-36 strikeout-to-walk ratio during his junior campaign and a 96-to-98 strikeout-to-walk ratio for his entire career.
Thanks to the added pop, McKay now profiles as a potential middle-of-the-lineup thumper, one who is capable of hitting .300/.380/.480 during his eventual peak.
Now as a pitcher, I would have slapped a potential late first round grade on the lefty heading into this season. And he’s done nothing but get better. He’s not overpowering in the traditional sense. But he combines a better-than-average arm with moxie to dominate hitters. His control, like a lot of other top prospects during their junior seasons, has taken a big step forward – going from strong to potential elite.
So how good has he been in 2017?
Well, consider the following:
- Between 2011 and 2016, here’s a list of Division I pitchers to throw at least 60 innings while averaging 12.0 K/9 and fewer than 2.5 BB/9: Danny Hultzen, Luke Gillingham, Trevor Bauer, and Marcus Stroman. Hultzen was the second overall pick in 2011. Bauer was taken by the Diamondbacks one pick later. Stroman was grabbed with the 22nd overall pick in 2012. And Gillingham was a late, late round pick in 2016.
So, where will McKay eventually end up in the professional ranks?
Personally, I’m not certain. Ignoring any potential injury – or injuries – he’s probably a safer bet to develop into a #2/#3-type starting pitcher as opposed to a middle-of-the-lineup thumper. But the potential as a hitter likely outweighs that of a pitcher.
I do think it’s too soon to “pigeonhole” him into either role just yet. Instead, I wouldn’t be surprised to see whichever team – the Minnesota Twins – let him make that determination by his performance on the field. Meaning: let him be a two-way player for the first year or so.
Ceiling (Hitter): 3.5- to 4.0-win player
Ceiling (Pitcher): 3.0- to 3.5-win player
Floor: 2.0-win player
Risk (Hitter): Moderate
Risk (Pitcher): Low to Moderate
Grade: First Round