Midwest League Notes: McKay Embraces Dual Threat Role

You don’t have to tune in to a Los Angeles Angels game to catch a glimpse of a real-life two-way baseball sensation. The dream of a true two-way player is alive and well in Bowling Green, Kentucky, home of the Hot Rods of the Midwest League. Brendan McKay is smashing all expectations that were placed on him as he tries to live up to the two-way billing that’s followed him since being selected fourth overall in the 2017 amateur draft. The Rays’ developed and to this point have stuck with their plan of McKay pitching every sixth day, sitting on his bullpen session day and then playing first base the rest of the time. Unlike Shohei Ohtani, who typically receives days off as a position player the day before and after a scheduled start, McKay played 1st base and was the DH Wednesday for the Hot Rods. That’s significant considering McKay started Thursday night and dominated a Cedar Rapids lineup that included some of the Minnesota Twins top prospects: No. 1 Royce Lewis, sixth ranked Alex Kirilloff, No. 11 Akil Baddoo, No. 19 Andrew Bechtold, No. 23 Ben Rortvedt and No. 28 Jose Miranda.

“It’s simple,” Rays minor league director Mitch Lukevics told the Tampa Bay Times. “He did it. … 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.”

McKay has more than lived up to the hype. Through six starts on the mound (24 /23 IP), he’s pitched to a 1.09 ERA, allowing just 8 hits and 2 walks, while punching out 41 batters on his way to a 47.1% strikeout rate, which translates to a ridiculous 14.59% K/9 rate. If that’s not enough to convince you he’s a pitching prospect then how about this: He’s holding opposing hitters to a paltry .109 average and has produced an impressive 1.23 FIP thus far all while producing a sterling 58.6 percent ground ball rate as well.

If you prefer the fourth ranked prospect in the Rays’ system to swing the bat, well, the next few lines are certain to generate some excitement. McKay has logged 82 plate appearances in 2018, slashing .262/.483/.344 with a home run, 15 RBI and 26 walks against just 13 strikeouts in 87 plate appearances. His 53.3% ground ball rate as a hitter is a bit concerning, but when you consider his .409 wOBA and 145 wRC+ are both sitting comfortably inside the top 15 in their respective categories in the Midwest League, then you can see why the Rays’ are content with letting him continue his two-way adventure.

Elehuris Montero (Peoria) – Checking in at 6-3, 195 lbs, the Cardinals have high hopes for Montero, who they signed in 2014 for $300,000 out of the Dominican Republic. His power is well above average, as he’s shown early on by smashing three home runs and collecting 15 RBI on his way to an impressive .917 OPS. Like most young sluggers, he’s learning the ropes of professional hitting and eventually his 76% contact rate will improve.

Gabriel Maciel (Kane County) – If you’re looking for power from the 19-year-old, switch-hitting  Arizona prospect, you might be a bit disappointed. What you will find is an advanced approach at the plate along with plus speed, which really benefits him from the left side. He’s only been in the MWL for about a week after being assigned from extended spring training. He’s off to a solid start slashing .320/.393/.480 with a home run, three runs batted in and two steals in just 28 plate appearances.

J.J. Matijevic (Quad Cities) – Promoted to High-A Buies Creek on Tuesday after wearing out MWL pitching to the tune of a .354/.446/.708 triple slash with three home runs and three steals across 56 plate appearances. His defense will need to improve if he hopes to stay in the outfield, but the Astros are primarily concerned with challenging his bat at a higher level. If he continues to show an advanced hit-tool, the 22 year-old University of Arizona product will continue his ascent through the Houston system.

Jasrado Chisholm (Kane County) – After a 7-day stint on the DL, “Jazz” Chisholm has picked right up where he left off in April by swinging a red-hot bat for the Cougars. He’s tallied twelve extra-base hits thus far to go along four home runs and a stout .980 OPS. The 20 year-old shortstop is considered by many evaluators to be the top prospect in the Arizona system and with his performance to date, it won’t be long until he’s on his way to the High-A club in the California League.

Jeter Downs (Dayton) – The 19 year-old shortstop has cooled off a bit from his torrid April start, but he’s still hitting .284 with 3 HR and 12 stolen bases. His 22.1 percent strikeout rate is manageable for a player making his full season debut, but with his BABIP floating around .357 a drop in average is most likely on the horizon. For dynasty purposes, he’ll stick at shortstop for now, but eventually a move to second base might be in order.

Jonathan Arauz (Quad Cities) -While we’re talking shortstops, we’d be remiss if Arauz wasn’t included in the discussion. After serving a 50 game suspension last season, his Midwest League return was postponed until 2018 and he’s wasting no time displaying his talents. An eye-popping .229 ISO and 154 wRC+ are products of his 13 XBH, 4 HR & 21 RBI across 126 plate appearances. He’s also showing tremendous patience and discipline at the plate as shown by his 15.1% walk rate and 12.7% strikeout rate.

Packy Naughton (Dayton) – The 6-2, 195 pound lefty out of Virginia Tech was the 257th( Rd. 9) player selected in the 2017 draft. He’s off to a 3-1 start this year, starting six games thus far and tossing 34 1/3 innings. Currently ranked as the Reds 28th best prospect, Naughton offers a fastball that sits 92-94 mph that he delivers with ease and an above average change up that sits in the low 80’s. While his pitching motion is a bit unusual, it adds a deceptive twist to his delivery. He’s working hard on refining his slider and curve, which will give him four pitches that he can throw for strikes.

Ronaldo Hernandez (Bowling Green) – Listed at 6-1 and 185 pounds, Hernandez has the make-up of a plus-hitting big league catcher down the road. He’s drawn rave reviews for his skills on both sides of the ball and his contact skills at the plate tell us that he’s potentially a legit .300 hitter with average to above average pop at the major league level, but the elite defense he flashes will be his calling card. Over 95 plate appearances this season he’s racked up nine extra-base hits and a very tolerable 13.9% strikeout rate.

Samad Taylor (Lansing) – Speed is Taylor’s specialty and the Blue Jays are more than willing to let him iron out his hit tool while he’s in the MWL. While he’s currently hitting .214, his tools are hard to ignore. An elite defender at the keystone along with 11 steals in just 26 games has evaluators across baseball taking notice. He’ll eventually hit as he proved last year at short-season Mahoning Valley where he hit .300 with four home runs and for stolen bases.

Zach Rutherford (Bowling Green) – The Rays 22-year-old shortstop prospect is crushing Low-A pitching as he’s produced a .520/.613/.720 triple slash over the last seven days. Although he’s yet to launch a home run this year, Rutherford turned seven balls into souvenirs at Princeton of the Gulf Coast League in 2017. The Old Dominion product is know for his sure hands and was named C-USA Defensive Player of the Year before being selected in the 6th round of the 2017 draft.


Featured image of Brendan McKay – via Travis Berg/MiLB.com

I call Fort Wayne, Indiana home and spend more time than I'd like to admit cheering on the TinCaps every summer at Parkview Field. I'm infatuated with all things baseball and am currently on a quest with my family to attend a game at all 30 MLB ballparks within the next few years. Wish me luck. I'm a bit too analytical at times, in fact, you could say I have a rather unhealthy relationship with wOBA, which makes wRC+ insanely jealous. I'll be covering the Midwest League for Prospects1500.

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