Posted on June 28, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
As it turns out, Shohei Ohtani may have been just the beginning. On Friday, the Tampa Bay Rays called up their own two-way player. Brendan McKay will make his major league debut on Saturday when he serves as Tampa’s starting pitcher against the Rangers. However, McKay has also performed as a hitter in the minors and may have an impact on Tampa’s season offensively before all is said and done.
“We’re pumped,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said of McKay’s promotion on Friday. “I’m pumped. We’re all pumped. We’re pumped as an organization.”
The Rays are calling up McKay primarily out of need. They played an 18-inning game on Thursday that forced them to use Ryan Yarbrough, who was in line to start on Saturday. That created a need that McKay will help to fill, at least for one start. Whether he remains in the majors beyond Saturday remains to be seen.
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“I think right now we’ll probably take it start by start,” says Cash. “I’m not sure exactly how we’re going to navigate all of this. … I know we’re going to put our heads together to see if we can map out the rest of the plan until the [all-star] break. We have a lot to discuss.”
McKay is the no. 2 prospect in Tampa’s farm system and no. 23 in all of baseball, according to MLB.com. He was the 4th overall pick in the 2017 draft and began the season at double-A. In eight appearances at double-A, he posted a 1.30 ERA before being promoted to triple-A. Since his promotion, the southpaw has pitched to a 1.08 ERA over 25 innings at triple-A. Between the two levels, he has amassed 88 strikeouts over 66.2 innings.
As a hitter, McKay hasn’t had quite as much success this season, but he has the potential to be a quality offensive player. At the start of the season, the Rays moved him off of first base and used him solely as a DH so that he had a little less on his plate. Between double-A and triple-A this season, McKay has hit just .205 with an OPS of .644. He still has some developing to do as a hitter, but Cash hasn’t ruled out the possibility of using him as a hitter while he’s with the Rays.
“There are a lot of people that have talked about his development. It’s a very unique case,” Cash said. “There’s a lot of unknown and we’re learning on the fly. He’s on the roster, so I don’t know why he won’t be available to hit throughout the time that he’s on our roster, but we’re just going to have to see how a lot of it unfolds.”
It’ll be fascinating to see what the Rays do with McKay following Saturday’s start. Remember, the Rays use primarily “openers” and their bullpen most games. Right now, Blake Snell and Charlie Morton are the only two traditional starters on their roster. With Tyler Glasnow recently suffering a setback, Tampa could use a third starter in their rotation. At the same time, he may not be ready to produce offensively at the major league level, which could force the Rays to send him back to the minors after Saturday’s start.
Either way, Saturday’s start could be just the beginning for McKay. It won’t be easy to make the same kind of impact that Ohtani made as both a pitcher and hitter last season. However, as of Saturday, baseball will have another player who has a legitimate chance to be a difference maker on the mound and in the batter’s box. Just how much he can help the Rays in either capacity both this season and beyond remains to be seen. But we’ll be watching.