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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