Hitter? Pitcher? Rays take both in MLB draft

by Gary Shelton on June 13, 2017 · 0 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Rays

Tuesday, 2 a.m.

The Tampa Bay Rays wanted pitching help with the fourth pick of Monday night's Major League Baseball draft.

And, they also wanted hitting help.

Maybe, just maybe, they ended up with both by taking Brendan McKay.

McKay, the best two-way player in the draft who turned down a contract offer from the Minnesota Twins that would have

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made him the overall No. 1 pick, was taken by the Rays with their highest draft pick since they took Tim Beckham in 2008.

"We are thrilled to select Brendon McKay," said Erik Neander, the Rays' vice president of baseball operation. "This is a very rare talent as a position player and as a pitcher. All we can say is our staff is thrilled to have selected him and hopefully have him in our organization."

When McKay, 21, was drafted, he was announced as a first baseman. However, he said the Rays told him they would look at him in both positions.

"At this point, our plan is to continue to let him explore that," Neander said. "He's probably the first guy, as long as we can remember, that has qualified on both sides of the ball to do this. We're excited to get him in here and explore it further."

This year, McKay hit .363 with 17 homers as a first baseman. He was 10-3 with a 2.34 ERA on the mound.

"I think it can add a whole new level to baseball of having two guys in one that can do both and add a lot of potential to your team in many ways," McKay said.

McKay confirmed he had an offer from the Twins.

"They had offered a number that we felt that we could get a better offer from another team or whatnot, and it ultimately came down to another team was able to give a better offer, so we went with that and I'm happy things worked out," McKay said. "You get a good deal and a great organization to work with."

Rays' director of scouting Rob Metzler said the franchise would explore where to best use McKay.

"I think we’re going to give him a chance because he’s earned that opportunity,” Metzler said. “We have him evaluated as an elite talent both ways, as a position player and as a pitcher. At some point down the road, maybe the game of baseball will slow him down...but we’re going to let the game of baseball determine that. We’ll be very cognizant of how he’s holding up doing that, how his body’s holding up. We’ll give him tender love and care, but we’re going to explore it.”

Metzler was hopeful that the Rays could sign McKay.

"We’re optimistic,” Metzler said. “Brendan’s going to continue his way through the College World Series. We’ll be rooting for Louisville, rooting for them to hang the banner at the end, and after that we’re optimistic that we’re going to be able to make him a Ray.”

Other teams were divided on where McKay should play.

"Every team that I talked to, that was the big question,” McKay said. “I said I wanted to do both as long as I could. Some teams were with it and would be willing to do it. Some teams were stuck on one or the other and didn’t want to take that risk. It all just came down to if one would say yes. If one team wanted to pick one and stick with that, I would have had no issue with it.”

Still, McKay wants to try both.

"Absolutely,” he said. “I love hitting and I love pitching. Just being on the field in general, it’s fun. When we won the Super Regional and I was in the dugout, the feeling of excitement is still there. But I think being on the field and knowing that ball could be hit to you for that final out is a different level of excitement. ...If a guy can figure out how to handle his arm and his body and not get worn down and stay healthy, it could add a whole new level in having two-guys-in-one that can do both. ...The [Rays have] said we’re going to experiment with it and see if it’s a feasible thing to do.”

With the 31st pick, the Rays  picked Oregon State pitcher Drew Rasmussen. With the 40th pick, they took high school pitcher Michael Mercado.

Rasmussen was taken despite undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2016.

“I think his return and showing us full health was very encouraging," Metzler said. He was somebody as a freshman and as a sophomore that we had had excellent reports and follows on. When he was able to show us health and competitive spirit back on the mound for the Beavers, it put us in a really good position to make the selection.”

Said Rasmussen:  "One of the best lines that I’ve been told was my first elbow lasted 16 years, so the new one should last about as long as well."

Mercado said he was "surprised" to be taken by the Rays. He has a commitment to Stanford, but the Rays say they are optimistic of signing him.

“It’s definitely going to be a big decision," Mercado said. "I’m not an end-all, be-all Stanford guy like some of the guys that go in. If my opportunities are greater playing minor league baseball than they are playing college baseball, then that’s definitely what I’ll go with. I’ve always looked at it like that.

The draft continues today with round 3-10. Rounds 11-40 are on Wednesday.

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