The Major League Baseball Draft begins tonight, with teams having scoured the country for the next crop of players that can help them win. The 2017 draft class happens to be no slouch, especially the first round. And within its first few picks there lies a particularly large question. Is it time for the return of the two-way player in Major League baseball.
Louisville University’s Brendan McKay is a consensus Top 3 pick, some even projecting him as high as the first selection by the Minnesota Twins. McKay is a quiet kid, though he leads by example. McKay has just lead his Cardinals to the College World Series after defeating Kentucky 6-2 in the Super Regionals on Saturday.
What sets McKay apart is that he is not only the ace of the Louisville pitching staff, but he is also their everyday starting first baseman. Not only that, but he excels at both. He was just awarded his third consecutive John Olerud award for the best two-way player in college. There is a debate amongst experts as far as where McKay will land and how he will be used. Some people see him going number one to the Twins as a pitcher. Others second to Cincinnati as a first baseman.
What sense is there in limiting the ways in which a player can help you win? Bruce Bochy will occasionally pinch hit ace Madison Bumgarner in tight spots, the same goes for Jacob DeGrom, a college shortstop at Stetson, who Terry Collins will march out for an at bat on his non-pitching days.
But, McKay is different, arguably the best in the country at both. He hit .343 this season with 17 homers and 56 RBIs in 60 games. He had a 2.34 ERA, with 10 wins and 140 strikeouts in 104 innings.
Take another example, the most exiting international player right now is “The Japanese Babe Ruth,” Shohei Otani. The 22 year old Otani is coming off of a season where he took the Nippon Professional Baseball, Pacific League MVP award and started almost every game as an outfielder or DH when he was not on the mound. He can hit for power and has had a pitch clocked as fast as 102.2 MPH. When he is allowed to go into the posting system for MLB, he will not want to play on one side of the ball. And why should he?
With the amount of money teams are pouring into a seemingly more specialized landscape of relievers and platoon hitters, versatility has made a comeback. Andrew Miller, a former first round pick himself, became a star as a lights out multi-inning reliever, who Terry Francona rode to the brink of a World Series last season. The Padres, in full rebuilding mode tried to convert OF/C and former top prospect Christian Bethancourt into a relief pitcher for this season wanting to use him in all three roles. The experiment failed, but the idea was sound.
As salaries hit the all time highs, and teams look for every edge, the time has come where a player is allowed to pitch and hit in the pros again. It will create roster spots which the MLB Players Union can get behind, considering that was the impotence for the creation of the 10 Day DL this past off-season.
As we sit here, 70 years after the death of the Babe, on the eve of the MLB Draft, I say Brandon McKay should be allowed to pitch and to hit, and usher in a new era for the game of baseball.