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Brendan McKay Works To Balance Hitting And Pitching

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — In any other year, Brendan McKay would be getting much more attention. He was the fourth overall pick in the country, plucked by the Rays from perennial college powerhouse Louisville, and is a legitimate prospect as both a hitter and a pitcher.

But 2018 isn’t like any other year. Across the country in Arizona, Shohei Ohtani has spent most of the spring capturing the ink and attention of the sport. The two-way talent is the most celebrated Japanese import in recent memory, and his arrival had been anticipated for years.

That means McKay, who spent his first taste of pro ball in the short-season New York-Penn League, toils in relative obscurity on the backfields at the Rays’ minor league complex. His family was counted among the few onlookers during Thursday’s game against Twins prospects, but other than that the crowd was mostly made up of scouts, coaches and other player-development personnel.

Like Ohtani, however, there was a little bit of work to do when it came to settling his schedule to optimize practicing both areas of his talent.

“We figured out a pretty good schedule to handle both pitching and hitting,” McKay said, “and it’s worked out well so far. It didn’t take a whole lot of time (to figure out). Me and Dewey Robinson, the pitching coordinator, talked over the phone a few times about how to about it and he had a plan in his mind before I even came down.

Then when I came down and he was here, he handed me that schedule and we went through the first weekend. After that we met again just to see if we wanted to make any changes or anything like that.”

As you might imagine, there’s a balance to be struck between when he works on his offense and when he works on pitching. Too much too soon could lead to more fatigue than already is normal in a prospect’s first taste of a full-season league and all of its rigors.

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So there will be plenty of days when McKay takes batting practice and works on his defense, and plenty more days where throws bullpen sessions or otherwise fine-tunes his pitching. But he and the Rays will work hard to make sure it all evens out in the end.

“It goes fairly well. I’ll get to hit nearly every day. There will be a few days where I don’t get to hit, like days I throw in a game or out of the bullpen,” he said, “but for the most part I’m getting the same swings as every other position player out here.”

McKay was the DH on Thursday and in his three trips to the plate he grounded to second and walked twice on a combined eight pitches, showing the same patience that led him to nearly as many walks (107) as strikeouts (114) in his three years with Louisville.

In his first try at pro ball, McKay hit .232/.349/.376 with four home runs and 22 RBIs, as well as a 1-0, 1.80 mark and 21 strikeouts over six starts with the short-season Hudson Valley Renegades. He also impressed scouts and other talent evaluators enough to earn the top spot in BA’s annual Top 20 prospect ranking for the New York-Penn League.

Entering the draft, which he got to watch while he and his Louisville teammates were waiting to play in the College World Series after winning in Super Regionals, McKay had strong opinion on what he wanted out of the team drafting him. If they wanted to make him a pitcher only, that was fine. If they wanted him as a hitter, that was OK too.

“I was open to anybody,” he said. “If somebody wants to give you a certain amount of money to do that, it’s a job and you’re going to take it if that’s what you want to do.”

Whether he opens next year at low Class A Bowling Green or high Class A Charlotte, his next steps—like Ohtani’s in Los Angeles—will be fascinating to watch.

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