With the first pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, and four picks within the first 76 selections, the Minnesota Twins have a legitimate chance to restock a farm system that has seen a lot of top players graduate to the major leagues. Hunter Greene is perhaps the top prospect leading up to the draft and has attained some national celebrity thanks to his recent Sports Illustrated cover. Another top prospect that many scouts feel could upend Greene’s chance to be drafted by the Twins with the number one overall pick is Brendan McKay, a left handed pitcher and first baseman from Louisville.
McKay won the Jon Olerud award—given to the best two-way player in the NCAA—the past two years and is the easy favorite to win it again this year. Unlike most two-way college players, MLB scouts have had a hard time deciding what side of the ball McKay is better on. As of May 4th he has a slash line of .390/.511./.747 and garnered national attention by hitting four (4!) homeruns in one game on April 25th. He has also pitched phenomenally, with a 2.15 ERA, 95/16 strikeout-to-walk rate, and 1.4 K/IP ratio.
On the mound, McKay has great command of hit fastball that sits between 90-94 mph early on and finishes around 88-92 mph as he gets deeper into games. Scouts think he will be able to add more velocity and maintain it better through games once he starts focusing on pitching full time, potentially leading to a 60 grade (“plus”) fastball. He also has a consistently plus curveball and a decent changeup that should grade out to at least average. He has a repeatable delivery and good command for an amateur pitcher.
Hence, McKay projects to a solid number three starter with a high floor and some upside remaining who could move quickly through a system once he begins to focus on pitching. Some think he could make it to the majors by the end of the 2018 season and be a member of the starting rotation on opening day 2019.
As a hitter, McKay has a plus hit tool that is likely the best in the draft among college batters. He has proven this year that he has legitimate power, likely grading out to average game power in the big leagues. Projections have him as a potential .300 hitter with 20 home runs, and a potentially higher ceiling. He should be an average fielder at first. If McKay is taken as a hitter he will likely be the first batter from this draft class to reach the Major Leagues, but probably not as quickly as he would on the mound.
The only bad thing about McKay is that he does not have a ceiling as high as other prospects in this draft. On the mound he could be a solid number 3 starter, but he will probably never have the combination of stuff and power to be a true front-end ace like prepster Hunter Greene or Vanderbuilt righty Kyle Wright. As a hitter McKay could make legitimate contact with pop, but he’ll probably never challenge for the home run title either. He would be essentially stuck as a first baseman in pro ball, although his bat should be good enough for the position.
The floor is very high—think back end starter or good relief pitcher on the mound, and 2015-2016 Joe Mauer but with slightly more pop at first—but he’s never going to lead a baseball team the way Clayton Kershaw or Mike Trout can.
Derek Falvey saw McKay play recently, a game in which he had rare struggles against Duke on the mound and an uninspiring day the plate. While the front office has enough video to be able to look past one bad day, Falvey and Thad Levine do come from organizations that generally pick high-upside high school prospects. There are potential aces and freakish up-the-middle type athletes in this draft, which may make it tough for Falvey to go against his history this year. Some scouts think McKay will have more ceiling as a hitter, but others swear by him as a pitcher, so there is true no lean in the industry at this point one way or the other.
If the Falvey, Levine, and the rest of the front office think that the Twins’ window for success is opening soon, McKay presents the best option for a quick Major League impact from this years’ draft. If chosen first on June 12th, McKay will instantly become the Twins best prospect as either a pitcher or a batter.
Do you think the Twins should take McKay with their first overall pick?