Eventually, will McKay have to make choice?

by Gary Shelton on June 14, 2017 · 4 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Bucs, Tampa Bay Rays

Wednesday, 3 a.m.

The conversation begins with a decision by Babe Ruth. Pretty much, that's all you need to know about Brendan McKay.

Babe Ruth.

Mind you, no one is silly enough to compare the players. Understood. But like Ruth, a decision looms ahead for McKay, who is a very good hitting prospect on the days he isn't a very good pitching prospect. He's a Bogo. He's two-mints-in-one. He's a dessert topping and a floor wax.

Now, all McKay has to do is stay out of his own way.

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Look, it's hard to be a major league pitcher, to manage hitters and command the fastball and take care of your arm and negotiate the breaking stuff and keep the ball in the park and master the slider. Likewise, it's hard to be a major league hitter, to focus day-in and day-out and know the parks and play defense and know the situation and handle the stuff of opposing pitchers.

Can a guy do both? Or by trying, does he risk being pretty good, but not great, at each skill? Does he spend days in the cage when he should be working on his change-up?

Eventually, that may be a decision that McKay -- and the Rays -- have to make. If greatness is the goal, will he eventually have to choose one or the other?

Even Ruth did, of course. If you know your baseball history, you are probably aware that, as a pitcher, Ruth won 65 games in a three-year period for Boston. But eventually, he moved to right field, where he hit home runs like no one else before him. He became baseball's greatest player, but only after he gave up the mound.

Again, no one is saying that McKay – the fourth pick in this year's draft – is that sort of talent. But the decision is still the same.

Pitch? Hit? Try both? When you've won the John Olerud Trophy (best two-way player) three straight years, it's a choice.

In baseball, a lot of players are scouted as both a hitter and a pitcher, and often, there is disagreement as to which direction they should go. According to the stories, one scout once tried to tell Adam Jones that he should pitch because he'd never make it as a hitter. There are still some who wonder how successful Dave Winfield would have been on the mound.

The advantage to taking a two-way player? That's easy. It helps insure against disappointment. If McKay can't get hitters out, he can shift to first and try to hit baseballs out. It's like getting two prospects for the price of one.

Still, there are scouts who wonder if the pursuit of two skills at the highest possible level can rob him of his best shot at greatness.

Rick Ankiel, the old St. Louis star, moved the outfield after losing his touch on the mound.

There have been others. Often, a player is talented enough to make you look twice. Overdue, for instance. Ken Brett. Josh Hamilton. Adam Loewen. Carlos Zambrano. Micah Owings.

Eventually, McKay will probably have to choose. Being a success in the major league as both a pitcher and a hitter is like being a mountain climber who writers classical music. One has little to do with the other. He's a college player, and the Rays will want him in the majors as soon as possible.

Odds are, he'll get there.

What he'll do is anyone's guess.

NOTES: The Rays paid a little attention to Flordia on their second day of the MLB draft, taking FSU shortstop Taylor Walls and USF pitcher Phoenix Sanders in their seven picks. Of their eight picks, the Rays drafted six pitchers and two shortstops. The draft concludes today.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Larry Beller June 15, 2017 at 8:00 am

I agree with you that McKay won’t be a 2-way player at the major league level. But can’t you just see how the minds of Rays Management are spinning thinking of all the possible scenarios of how they can get more out of this guy than the average player? I mean that’s what they do. The fact that other teams didn’t want him to enter pro ball still trying to play both positions is how the Rays were able to get him in the first place. It will be interesting to watch how he develops.

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Gary Shelton June 15, 2017 at 10:56 am

If you’re the kid, wouldn’t you rather be a first baseman than risk an arm injury? Seems pitchers are more fragile.

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Larry Beller June 14, 2017 at 1:15 pm

Can someone please explain the Rays fascination with shortstops? It seems that if they aren’t drafting one they are trading for one. Pitchers too but it’s easy to understand that thinking. And McKay is the perfect draft pick for the Rays. They love guys who can play multiple positions and management must be drooling over the possibility of being the only team that has a player who can be both a pitcher and play in the field at the major league level. But I do agree he will eventually have to choose which direction he wants to go and the sooner the better.

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Gary Shelton June 14, 2017 at 8:19 pm

I don’t think McKay will make it to the majors as a pitcher and first baseman. I think he’ll get into one of those situations where the hitter should be promoted but notsomuch the pitcher (or vice versa.)

Remember this about shortstops. Colleges and high schools generally put their best players there. A lot of major league second basemen were shortstops coming up. Some third basemen, too. Some outfielders. If a guy is a great athlete who can hit, teams feel they can find a position for him.

That said, the Rays took three shortstops in 140 rounds. They took five catchers. Heck, they took 18 right-handed pitchers. When a team takes 40 draft picks, there will be some repeating the positions. On the other hand, the Rays didn’t pick any left fielders, right fielders or DHs.

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