Brendan McKay

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Brendan Joel McKay

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Biographical Information[edit]

Brendan McKay was the first college player selected in the 2017 amateur draft, going fourth overall to the Tampa Bay Rays, after high school players had been targeted with the first three picks of the draft. At the University of Louisville, he was a three-time winner of the John Olerud Award given to the best two-way player in the collegiate ranks. He was named the Collegiate Baseball Player of the Year in 2017 as well as being the winner of the Golden Spikes Award and being named the Baseball America College Player of the Year. As a result, there was some uncertainty as to what his position would be as a pro, as he was a top prospect as both a left-handed pitcher and as a first baseman. It was rumored that the Minnesota Twins, who held the first pick in the draft, wanted to select Brendan, but decided otherwise when they realized that his financial demands were higher than what they were prepared to pay; they selected high school shortstop Royce Lewis instead. The Rays who took him did not immediately indicate what position he would play in the pro ranks. He was signed on June 27th for a record-breaking signing bonus of just over $7 million.

He continued to be a two-way player in his first pro season, with the Hudson Valley Renegades of the New York-Penn League in 2017. As a hitter, he batted .230/.349/.361 in 35 games, with 4 homers and 21 RBIs while playing 21 games at first base and 14 as a DH. As a pitcher, he went 1-0, 1.80 in 6 starts, giving up just 10 hits and 5 walks in 20 innings while striking out 21 opponents. The plan was to continue using him in both roles at the start of 2018. He did compile 192 at-bats between three minor league teams, mainly in A ball, hitting .214 with 6 homers and 39 RBIs, but his most impressive work was on the mound, where he was 5-2, 2.41 in 19 games, including 17 starts. He started a number of games at first base that year. In 2019, he moved up to AA and AAA. He was 3-0, 1.30 for the Montgomery Biscuits of the Southern League, and 3-0, 1.08 for the Durham Bulls in the International League when he was called up to Tampa at the end of June. He was still being used both ways, with 38 games as the DH during that time, during which he hit .205 with 4 homers and 18 RBIs.

McKay made his major league debut for the Rays on June 29, 2019, and it was a good one. Facing the Texas Rangers, he retired the first 16 batters he faced in order before Danny Santana hit a bloop single into right field. He also walked a batter that inning before striking out Delino DeShields Jr. to end his night's work. He received credit for the Rays' 5-2 win. Two days later, on July 1st, he was inserted into the Rays' starting line-up at DH at batting 8th, in effect doing what Shohei Ohtani had done on his way to earning the Rookie of the Year Award the previous season. He was originally named to the roster of the American League team for the 2019 Futures Game, but he was replaced given he was now a major leaguer. In all, he went 2-4, 5.14 in 13 games as a pitcher, including 11 starts, and logging 49 innings. As a hitter, he was 2 for 10 with a homer hit as a pinch-hitter on September 22nd off Trevor Kelley of the Boston Red Sox accounting for his sole RBI. He also appeared in the postseason, making three relief appearances against the Houston Astros in the Division Series and allowing 2 unearned runs in 1 1/3 innings.

Like all other professional baseball players, he saw his 2020 season upended by the coronavirus pandemic. He was battling for a spot in the Rays' starting rotation when spring training was suspended in mid-March, and when action resumed three months later, he tested positive for COVID-19, then when he resumed pitching was set back by a shoulder problem that forced him to undergo surgery in August for a labrum tear. In consequence, he did not pitch at all that season, but was back in spring training in 2021 and working out both as a pitcher and as a hitter, although he experienced a setback when he cut a finger trying to remove the tag on a toy for his pet dog with a knife.

Coming out of high school, McKay had been a 34th-round selection by the San Diego Padres in the 2014 amateur draft. In 2017, he won the Dick Howser Trophy given to the best player in collegiate baseball and was also a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award.

Further Reading[edit]

  • Adam Berry: "McKay focused on hitting and pitching in '21",, March 9, 2021. [1]
  • Bil Chastain: "Rays take 2-way threat McKay with 4th pick: Louisville standout stars as slugging first baseman, dominant southpaw",, June 12, 2017. [2]
  • Bill Chastain: "Rays' 2-way plan for McKay continues at camp: Touted prospect balancing pitching, hitting this spring",, March 5, 2018. [3]
  • Gentry Estes: "He's a 'rare talent.' Former U of L star Brendan McKay could be MLB's next Shohei Ohtani", Louisville Courier Journal, April 17, 2018. [4]
  • Juan Toribio: "Cool, calm, nearly perfect: McKay wows in debut: Rays top pitching prospect takes perfect game into 6th in first Major League start",, June 29, 2019. [5]
  • Joe Trezza: "McKay, Rays' Draft pick, wins Howser Trophy: Honor for best college player goes to Louisville pitcher/first baseman",, June 16, 2017. [6]

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