Need pitcher? Need hitter? Louisville's McKay does it allThe Associated Press — By ERIC OLSON - AP Sports Writer
The phrase "total package," as applied to a baseball player or any other athlete, is often thrown around too casually. But there really is no other way to describe Louisville's Brendan McKay.
He's in line to be the first pitcher taken in the Major League Baseball draft.
He's also in line to be the first position player/hitter taken.
"You have a lot of guys who are two-way players, but one skill kind of overshadows the other," Louisville coach Dan McDonnell said. "If you put Brendan the pitcher on one side and Brendan the hitter on the other side, they could almost have their own competition to see who's better at that craft."
As a pitcher, the lefty throws a low- to mid-90s fastball he locates with precision uncommon for a collegian, a devastating curveball he brought from high school and a changeup he's developed since last fall. He's 25-9 with a 1.93 ERA and 313 strikeouts against 86 walks since arriving at Louisville in 2015.
As a batter, the left-handed first baseman and designated hitter is a .336 career hitter with 16 homers, 40 doubles and 102 RBIs in 156 games. He's batting .400 this season after homering, doubling and driving in a career-best five runs in a 13-1 win over Purdue on Tuesday night.
High school two-way star Hunter Greene of Sherman Oaks, California, and McKay are the consensus top two draft prospects. Baseball America editor John Manuel said major league personnel people are split on where the 6-foot-2, 220-pound McKay's future lies.
"You could make a case that McKay is the best pitcher in the country," Manuel said. "Scouts definitely view him as the best pure hitter in the college class."
What does McKay think he's best at — pitching or hitting?
"I'm not even sure yet," he said. "I've been fairly successful at both so far. I think I find as much enjoyment in doing both as I do just one or the other. There really is no preference, honestly."
McKay, who grew up near Pittsburgh, was a bit under-recruited. He valued playing with his high school friends more than the opportunity to gain exposure on the AAU circuit. He did draw notice for his shutout streak of 71 2/3 innings, the third-longest in U.S. high school history, over his junior and senior seasons at Blackhawk High. But during the summers he played with his local American Legion team.
McKay did attend some showcases, and Louisville pitching coach Roger Williams spotted him at one. McKay said he was drawn to the Cardinals because they had made the College World Series in 2013 and '14 and he wanted to play in the Atlantic Coast Conference, which they joined his freshman year.
Once there, it became obvious that McKay needed to be in the lineup every day. He singled up the middle in his first at-bat, as a pinch hitter in the second game in 2015. Three weeks later, he was the regular first baseman or designated hitter. Not long after that he made his first pitching start, striking out nine and allowing three hits in seven shutout innings against Boston College, part of a stretch in which he worked 22 2/3 scoreless innings.
North Carolina coach Mike Fox said he couldn't recall a player who could do so much so well. Last May, McKay pitched seven shutout innings, allowing three hits and striking out nine, and went 2 for 3 with an RBI in a 6-0 win over the Tar Heels.
"Friday night pitcher and a 3-hole or 4-hole hitter? Those are few and far between," Fox said. "The thing with him is that he's so in control and doesn't get flustered. He can make big pitches behind in the count. When he's throwing that fastball to both sides of the plate and throwing that breaking ball, you don't have much of a chance."
Until last summer, it looked as if McKay's pitching was ahead of his hitting. But he drew raves for his smooth swing and team-best .326 average for the USA Collegiate National Team. That was on top of his going 2-1 with a 1.35 ERA and 10 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings.
Baseball America's Manuel said his hunch is that McKay will be a pitcher and, now 21 years old, will make a fast rise to the majors, perhaps as a No. 3 starter.
"The pure hitting ability is amazing," Manuel said, "but there are some questions about whether he has plus bat speed, because everyone throws so hard these days. Is he going to have the bat speed to catch up to big-league power arms consistently?"
McKay said his ideal scenario would be to remain a two-way player to start his first summer of pro ball, regardless of the team drafts him. He said once his strongest position becomes apparent, he can specialize then.
The Minnesota Twins have the first pick, followed by the Cincinnati Reds. Twins senior scouting adviser Deron Johnson is scheduled to watch McKay in this week's series against Georgia Tech, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
"Whoever gets him, you get the steal of the draft," McDonnell said, "because you definitely think he's going to perform in one area, but you always have insurance in the back pocket if one doesn't work out."