Leading up to Day 1 of the MLB Draft on June 12, we will be conducting Q&A interviews with many prospects who are projected to be first-rounders. For a complete listing of these interviews, click here.
Our next Q&A is with Louisville two-way superstar Brendan McKay, who starred at both first base and pitcher for the Cardinals this year. McKay has drawn interest from clubs as both a pitcher and a first baseman, and will embark on a pro career with some positional uncertainty.
McKay is widely expected to be the first overall pick, with ESPN, Baseball America and MLB.com all projecting him to Minnesota earlier today. The Twins are said to be considering both McKay and shortstop Royce Lewis with the first pick. For a full scouting report on McKay, check out Minor League Ball.
When did you first get into baseball as a kid and realize your passion for the game?
“I’d say I got into baseball probably around 4 or 5. Just watching my sisters playing softball growing up. When I really started loving it was at 6 or 7, getting to play T-ball and more competitive games when you’re actually doing something instead of playing with your dad in the backyard.”
Was there a turning point moment when you realized you could turn pro and be a high pick?
“Somewhere in high school. Just really knowing you have a chance to go somewhere that’s been successful and play college ball. From then on, after you get there you start playing better and see other guys around you that are good. Seeing guys that are equally talented or maybe a little bit better than you, that you can grow into and see where they’re going. At that time, that’s where you see the potential.”
Growing up, did you have a favorite team? Favorite player?
“Growing up, I loved watching the Pirates. Just being from that area, that was the easy game to go to with my family. They weren’t that good at the time so tickets were fairly cheap and you could get in easily. Favorite players growing up, I loved watching Derek Jeter, David Ortiz and all the greats of that time that were the faces of baseball and the standouts who would be on TV all the time.”
You had the opportunity to go through the draft process three years ago, but obviously decided to go to college. What went into your decision at that point?
“It was more the fact that the chances of me going somewhere in the draft order where it would’ve bene a significant amount of money or somewhere that would put me in a good place to play and be successful wasn’t there. Just getting to college and getting better each year, being around a group of guys with quality draft picks every year who were guys that were great competitors and great athletes.”
What went into your decision to commit to Louisville in the first place?
“I really loved the fact they were moving to the ACC when I would be a freshman. Just the legacy they were starting to build in 2013 and 2014 when they made the back-to-back trips to Omaha. I could see that they could compete against anyone in the country in regionals, super regionals and Omaha. When they played teams from other conferences, they were playing right along right against them and playing well. Moving to the ACC, I felt, would be just another jump for them to make. I loved that and I loved the atmosphere around the city.”
Most mock drafts have you going first overall. Simply, why should you be first?
“Just a guy who goes out and competes. If he’s got his stuff, he’ll give you a good outing. There’s gonna be days when guys don’t have their best stuff, but I’m gonna be a guy that will compete out there and fight to give you a quality start and get you to a point where you can give it to your bullpen. It’s still gonna be within reason of what a team can do with a game.”
What have you heard from teams on whether they see you as a pitcher or first baseman moving forward?
“It’s really split. Some teams have said they like me as a pitcher while some teams have said they like me as a hitter. Some have said they’ll initially do both at first, that first summer in pro ball coming off 100 innings or more with that workload in college. We’re not gonna push you on the mound. That first summer, we’ll let you do both with the lighter pitching load and see if it would be feasible to even try to do both at that point.”
On your end, which one do you prefer?
“I really have no preference. I just want to go out there and play. I love being on the field, I love being able to play. When it comes down to it, when a team’s going to give you whatever they’re going to sign you for, they’re going to abide by what they say. It’s just like a normal job where you’re working in an office or whatever. You listen to the boss. If he tells you to go sit at a computer and punch numbers all day, you’re gonna do that to earn that paycheck.”
There’s been a ton of talk about two-way players recently, with you, Hunter Greene and Shohei Otani all making headlines. Do you think there’s a real future for two-way guys at the major-league level?
“I think it could happen. If there’s a guy who can figure out how to handle his body and handle the workload and do it successfully, it could create a new addition to baseball. You’d have a guy who, in late innings, you could use for a pinch-hit at-bat or as an arm if you need it.”
You’ve said the toughest part, as expected, is the intense workload of both parts of your game. Is it possible to have that type of workload over the course of an 162-game season?
“It’s gonna be tough. One thing that I have thought about is that maybe in the start of the season you could start to do both and then maybe in the middle of the season, when guys are getting tired, get a break but still take BP and do hitting stuff to stay in shape. As you get another wind late in the season, maybe pick it back up some more just to try to fluctuate with the way your body feels and how guys typically get tired at those times.”
Louisville has had a ton of first-rounders in the last few rounds, including Corey Ray, Will Smith, Kyle Funkhouser and Zack Burdi. What have those guys told you in terms of draft advice?
“When guys come back, we just talk to them about whatever they’ve gone through. They just say to have fun and live life like you’re gonna do whatever you do. Just be who you are, don’t worry about what’s coming up with the draft and everything. Just to be you and do what you can to control it.”
What’s your biggest strength as a player?
“Just the calmness and level-headedness of not getting too upset when things don’t go my way. Every day, you’re not going to have your stuff on the mound or at the plate. You’ve just got to go through it thinking, ‘alright, it’s not my day physically or mentally,’ but you’ve got to grind it out and do what you can do with what you’ve got for that day. If you’re not swinging it well, just doing as much as you can in the dugout and on the field to lift others up who may be struggling with you. Just trying to get them going with you.”
On the other side of that, what do you want to work on the most at the next level?
“Just consistency, not having that big fluctuation with different things. Just being consistent day in and day out, bringing the same level of energy, the same focus and the same intensity. Just being that guy who’s gonna be there all the time and be in it.”
You’re in the middle of a huge whirlwind, being in the College World Series and in the middle of the postseason while also being a top draft pick this week. What is that whirlwind like, and do you believe MLB or the NCAA should work something out where the draft is after the College World Series?
“It’s tough to live through that. A lot of teams with a lot of high draft picks are likely the teams in the postseason, either in Omaha or being in the Super Regional. It’s tough to deal with that. It could be that last start on the mound or that last game, with a swing or playing defense that could try boost their stock with that. It’s tough to play like that when your season is on the line. You’ve got to play for yourself at some point, but you’ve got to play for your team first and foremost. It’s tough to do it where the MLB would push back the date because it’s so late. They want to get guys in there and see what they can do in the minor leagues and everything. It’s a tough decision to move it back because they want to get their guys in and see how they do. Just getting their feet wet and getting them a little work in their organization just seeing what pro ball is like. It’s tough to think about moving it.”
Who are your major-league comps, both on the mound and at first?
“From a pitching standpoint, two of the guys that I like are Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw. They go right at guys and have nasty stuff when they’re on. They’ve got nasty stuff and can command the zone well. They’ve got good offspeed and good command over the ball, so they have that mentality that they’re coming at you with everything they’ve got. They may get hit around a little bit, they may not, but they’re coming at you with their best stuff. From the fielding and hitting side, someone like Adrian Gonzalez. That guy who isn’t a big power numbers guy but he’s gonna contribute. At big times, he’s gonna get on base and do things to help a team. He plays a great first base too.”
What does it mean to you to be mentioned as a potential first overall pick?
It’s awesome and humbling at the same time. A mock draft is a mock draft but it all comes down to the people up in the big offices for a team making decisions on who they want in their organization and who they want to give money to. It’s an awesome feeling.”