McKay has seemingly always had a bat in his hand. For example, flash back to the summer of 1997, and Brendan won't get back in the family's car. Parked at a Pizza Hut in the Carolinas, on their way to Myrtle Beach from their home in Darlington, Pennsylvania, on vacation.
Brendan is the youngest of three -- much younger. He was born in 1995. His two older sisters, Jennifer and Heather, are well into their teens at this point. They've played softball for years, and it rubbed off on their little brother.
The McKays just made a quick stop and are trying to get back on the road. But Brendan refuses to return to the backseat. He wants to take swings, and he want to take 'em now! So his dad, Bruce, takes a jumbo whiffle ball bat and a few balls out of the car.
"We ended up playing baseball in the parking lot at Pizza Hut," Bruce said. "He probably doesn't remember that but his sisters remind him of that all the time."
In 2014, McKay was drafted by the Padres in the 34th round, as a pitcher. But Brendan chose a baseball scholarship to the Univ. of Louisville, instead.
At Louisville in 2015, as a freshman, Brendan led the ACC with a 1.77 ERA. He went 9-3, striking out 117 and walking 34 in 97 innings. And he became the Saturday stopper for the Cardinals.
Baseball America named McKay as their 2015 College Freshman of the Year. Brendan emerged as not only the top freshman in the nation, but was also the top two-way player in the country. In addition to his stellar pitching performances, McKay had a .308 average with four home runs, 34 RBI and 14 doubles in 58 starts as a hitter in the Louisville lineup as a freshman.
In 2017, Brendan became Baseball America's third three-time first-team All-American joining Greg Swindell (1984-86) and Robin Ventura (1986-88). And, McKay was named the 2017 College Player of the Year.
The person with the greatest influence on Brendan's athletic career was his dad because he was always there to play catch or throw BP for him when he was younger.
In 2015, Brendan McKay was named the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year by National College Baseball Hall of Fame. The award is named for the former Washington State and Major League Baseball star who achieved success as both a first baseman and a left-handed pitcher.
Olerud co-chairman George Watson said. "What set Brendan apart was his competitiveness as a freshman to solidify tough roles both at the plate and on the mound and to do so with the maturity and mental toughness of a seasoned veteran." McKay is the first freshman to win the Olerud Award in its six-year history. (6/29/15)
Brendan McKay was named the 2017 Dick Howser Award winner.
McKay has considerable physical talents, but his mental capabilities play a big role in his success as well.
“Baseball’s hard as it is, just being a regular player,” McKay said. “If you put any extra pressure on yourself, it can take even more of a toll. That’s when you play your best, when you’re free and you’ve got a clear mind and you’re just doing your thing out there.”
That attitude has served McKay well. He was a superstar at Blackhawk High in Beaver Falls, Pa.. He twice was named Gatorade player of the year in Pennsylvania and was drafted in the 34th round by the Padres.
McKay was the 4th player taken in Round One of the 2017 Draft, by the Tampa Bay Rays.
June 28, 2017: McKay was signed by the Rays. He received a bonus of $7,007,500, a record bonus in the current draft slotting system, and far above the $6,153,600 slot value. He signed with scout James Bonnici.
2017 Season: In June, the Rays were able to draft Louisville first baseman/pitcher Brendan McKay with the fourth pick in the MLB Draft. McKay is one of two players that pitched and played a position in the field that were taken in the top five (Hunter Greene was taken second by the Cincinnati Reds).
Earlier in September, the Reds made the decision that Greene will be a pitcher only going forward after he tried doing both at short-season Billings. As for McKay, the Rays haven’t made that decision yet as he is down in Florida in the instructional league.
On the Baseball America Rays roster, McKay is listed as an infielder. With Short-Season Hudson Valley, McKay hit .232 with four home runs, 22 RBI’s, and had an on-base percentage of .349. His 21 walks were also the fourth most on the Renegades team that won the New York-Penn League championship.
When he took the mound, McKay never threw more than five innings in a game, but had impressive numbers. He had a 1.80 ERA and struck out 21 batters in 20 innings. The 21-year-old lefthander (turns 22 in December) gave up just four runs, which is good considering he gave up three home runs.
Now, the Rays gave McKay a chance to do both things this summer and we will see what decision they decide to make. At Louisville, he had 18 home runs in his junior season and slugged .659. While he had some good moments at the plate, it is clear he had more success with Hudson Valley on the mound. (Ricky Keeler@Rickinator555- Sep 26, 2017)
In 2018, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated McKay as the 3rd-best prospect in the Rays' organization.
In the spring of 2020, they had him at #2, behind only Wander Franco in the Rays prospect list. He was at #6 in the winter before 2021 spring camp opened.
McKay is content to work his way through the Rays’ system to establish himself as a starting pitcher and first baseman/DH. And the 22-year-old McKay doesn’t see what the big deal is.|
“As much as people kind of want to make a big deal about it to me,” said McKay, who bats and throws lefthanded, “it’s just what I’ve been doing for 18 years . . . since I started playing.”
Both hitting and pitching through high school is somewhat common, but what set McKay apart is that he got the opportunity to continue doing so at the Division I college level, and that he excelled both ways at Louisville.
“It’s simple,” farm director Mitch Lukevics said. “He did it. He did it. This young man has done it at his highest level of competition to date. Everybody else in the world says, ‘I can hit and I can pitch,’ but they’ve never done it to the degree that Brendan McKay has. And he did it so well he was College Player of the Year.”
Brendan is considered by scouts as more advanced as a pitcher, and his significantly structured workload is based on his mound work. The Rays plan to have him work in a six-man rotation and play first base or DH in the days before and after he starts, with one day off after his long bullpen session. To McKay and the Rays, the physical test of the five-month season is the biggest challenge. They want to see how his body—specifically his arm—holds up to the rigors of playing every day. The Rays have already made some accommodations, like cutting down on his throwing during infield work.
But skeptics wonder if McKay has the talent to play both ways, and if he will have the time to properly develop in both areas. But McKay doesn’t want to choose between hitting and pitching any time soon.
“Personally I want to do it as long as it takes me,’’ he said, “but I’d obviously be open to anybody who says, ‘Hey, this is what we’re seeing’ . . . So I would take their insights.”
For now, the Rays won’t even consider it.
“This is absolutely no gimmick,” Lukevics said. “This is for real. This is every day, seven days a week, that we’re getting Brendan McKay prepared to take on a full season and (work) as a starting pitcher and first baseman . . . We’re absolutely pumped about it. And we feel very strongly he is the right guy for it.”
2018 Season: Beginning the season on what may go down as the most talented Bowling Green Hot Rods (LoA) roster ever, McKay managed a ridiculous .484 OBP and an equally ridiculous 0.41 Whip on the mound. In short, he likely started the season one level too low.
Heading to HiA and seeing better hitters and pitching, he still managed to be among the top 12 in important categories and seemed to really settle in once he returned from the oblique issue, which may have impacted his early FSL numbers.
By the time the season was ending (last 30 days), McKay was rounding into form at the plate, managing an .822 OPS, .279 ISO, .369 wOBA, and 131 wRC+ over that span.
On the mound over that same stretch (Jul 26th onwards) in the FSL, McKay was dominant as ever: 6 GS, 24 IP, 9.25 K/9, 2.59 BB/9, 1.85 ERA, and 2.29 FIP.
Spring 2019: The Rays and Brendan McKay will be trying out something new this season, as they continue to look for the best way to develop the two-way player through the Minor Leagues.
McKay will continue to be a two-way player for Tampa Bay, but his schedule will look a little bit different than it did in 2018. The schedule will consist of having McKay pitch one day, take the following day off and then serve as the team’s designated hitter until his next scheduled start.
The decision was made in order to keep McKay -- Tampa Bay's No. 3 prospect -- fresh for an entire season, while also allowing him the necessary time to get as much work done at the plate as possible. (Juan Toribio -MLB.com-March 4, 2019)
- In an attempt to simplify his pregame work and help him stay healthy after twice dealing with oblique issues in 2018, the Rays are limiting McKay strictly to DH rather than have him play first base several times a week as he did last year at low Class A Bowling Green and high Class A Charlotte.
“I want to be on the field and play first base, but I understand where they’re coming from,” McKay said. “Taking care of stress, not really taking you over the top, to keep you healthy, I understand that aspect of it.
“You get to focus on hitting. That might be a little behind pitching, but honestly if you get more focus on it you might get a little bit better.”
McKay said he remains committed to reaching the Majors as a two-way player, a la Japanese sensation Shohei Ohtani of the Angels.
The Rays remain committed, too, though it will be interesting to see what happens if McKay’s success as a pitcher continues to exceed his hitting.
In a spring start against the Braves’ A-team, he struck out four over two innings.
“He’s got excellent stuff," catcher Mike Zunino said. “I was able to talk to him a little bit afterward and just sort of tell him what I thought of it.
"I thought he was excellent, very poised, very polished, being only, what, a year and some change out of college? I think the upside is extremely high with him."
McKay’s take—and note the ending:
“It was a different experience, obviously, but it felt great. I learned a lot of stuff from talking to the pitching coaches up there (and) Zunino talking about how to attack hitters . . . It was fun." (Marc Topkin - Basebal America - May, 2019)
MLB debut (June 29, 2019): Before Saturday’s game, Brendan McKay sat in the home clubhouse by his locker, which is conveniently located between those of Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow. The highly touted left-hander checked his phone and appeared calm, just three hours before taking the mound for the first time in the Major Leagues.
McKay was greeted by some teammates as Snell answered questions from the media in his scrum one day before his start. McKay listened to the Rays’ ace, and then changed into his uniform and began to prepare himself for his turn on the mound.
With his mom, dad, both sisters, girlfriend and other friends and family in attendance at Tropicana Field, McKay stepped out on the field about 40 minutes before first pitch. He stretched for a few minutes out in right field before grabbing his tan glove with his name stitched in blue and moving over to the bullpen mound to work with pitching coach Kyle Snyder and catcher Travis d’Arnaud. That’s when it hit McKay that he would be making his Major League debut.
“It just takes you back, and you take a deep breath and just mellow yourself out and get to it,” McKay said.Once McKay got through his warmup pitches, he joined the rest of the bullpen for the traditional high-five line. Five minutes later, McKay led the Rays back out onto the field to become just the fifth left-handed starter to debut in franchise history, and the first since Snell on April 23, 2016. At 4:10 p.m. ET, Tampa Bay’s No. 2 prospect delivered a 94 mph fastball to Shin-Soo Choo, and the McKay Era was underway.
And what an impressive beginning it was. The southpaw went on to retire the first 16 hitters he faced, tossing six scoreless innings to lead the Rays to a 5-2 win over the Rangers. McKay allowed one hit and one walk, and he struck out three. (Juan Toribio - MLB.com.)
July 1, 2019: Rays two-way rookie Brendan McKay made his debut as a hitter against the Orioles in Tampa Bay, in the starting lineup as the designated hitter and batting eighth.
July 2019: McKay represented the Rays at the Futures All-Star Game.
Baseball America's JJ Cooper was asked if he thought McKay would get more hitting action in the Show:
"I don't think it will ever be a major factor in his game. He has legit power and a good batting eye so using him as a pinch hitter with some pop (and maybe 10-15 DH games) seems possible, but his hitting development needs a lot of further ABs. No scout I talked to thought he was MLB ready as a hitter and almost universarlly they thought that spending much time working on his hitting would detract from his biggest asset--his pitching. His arm is ready to pitch in the majors.
"I don't see any scenario where the Rays would send him back to the minors to help his bat get time to develop if he's ready to help the MLB club as a pitcher. So instead, he has to figure out how to hit MLB pitching while getting sporadic ABs and time in the cage. That's a tough assignment for anyone, but especially for someone who has to worry about figuiring out how to pitch in the majors at the same time." (J.J. Cooper - 11/11/2019)