Tampa Bay Rays: McKay and Dodson leading the way
By Austin Reimann
Brendan McKay was taken with the 4th overall pick in the 2017 draft. A proven two-way player in college, the Tampa Bay Rays allowed him to both hit and pitch the past two seasons. They liked what they saw and decided to draft Tanner Dodson with the 71st pick in 2018. Now, the Rays may have a pair of two-way players who could be in the Majors sooner than later.
The elusive 2-way player has escaped the grasps of Major League Baseball and its teams since the days of Babe Ruth, but those days are over thanks to the likes of Shohei Ohtani, who made waves last year when he signed as both a pitcher and fielder. Shortly after Ohtani signed with the Angels, the Tampa Bay Rays drafted Brendan McKay to both hit and pitch.
The following year, they drafted a young man named Tanner Dodson to also hit and pitch. Ohtani, the only 2-way player in the sport was phenomenal for Los Angeles, winning the Rookie of the Year in the American League, but he may soon be joined by a pair of Rays prospects who also play the field and pitch.
Ohtani is leading the way at the Major League Level and forging a path for McKay and Dodson, but the athletic and versatile Rays prospects are forging the path for future prospects and 2-way players to not only pitch but to also play the field.
As a result, soon, more 2-way players may remain as such and not choose between pitching and hitting after they are drafted. Let’s take a look at the pair of Rays prospects who could bring tons of value to Tampa’s roster in the coming years…
Brendan McKay, the Tampa Bay Rays 4th overall pick in 2017 can pitch and play first. A dominant pitcher during his time in the minors, who has also shown an ability to hit with power while playing first base. His fastball sits in the low to mid 90’s and is complemented by a good curveball, changeup, and cutter.
Tanner Dodson was drafted by the Rays, 71st overall in 2018 as a pitcher and center fielder. Dodson, who features a high-octane fastball that he pairs with a good slider and change-up, also roams centerfield with an above average arm and speed on the bases.
Both players have been dominant on the mound. They feature different repertoires, but both have overwhelmed their competition. McKay, a lefty, has pitched to a 2.29 ERA in his first two seasons across all levels of single-A, striking out 124 batters in 98.1 innings. Dodson, a righty, struck out 25 in 25 innings of work and finished with an ERA of 1.44 in his first season of pro ball.
At the plate, both Dodson and McKay hit well. Yes, McKay’s batting average suffered in 2018, but he still reached base at a good clip and hit for power. At Bowling Green, he hit .254 with an OBP greater than .480. With the promotion to Charlotte, his AVG and OBP dropped but his SLG improved.
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McKay 2017 (125 AB): .232/.349/.376
- 33 K / 21 BB / 4 HR / wRC+ 123(A-)
McKay 2018 (192 AB): .214/.366/.359
- 52 K / 44 BB / 6 HR / wRC+ 151(A) 109(A+)
Dodson 2018 (198 AB): .273/.344/.369
- 34 K / 20 BB / 2 HR / wRC+ 113(A-)
Both Dodson and McKay showed a good understanding of the strike zone and an ability to reach base.
It will be interesting to see how Tanner Dodson adjusts to a better pitching in 2019, but if he hits about the same then I will be very excited for his future. In my opinion, if Dodson can keep developing as an average to above average defender with a plus arm in the outfield and an electric fastball that can be used out of the pen, he adds great value to a 25-man roster. (I really like Tanner Dodson and his 2-way potential)
As a reliever and possible starting or 4th outfielder, the switch hitting Cal product could pitch one day and pinch hit the next. He could even start in the outfield one day and eventually enter the game as a reliever in the later innings. An athlete like Dodson would provide the Rays with so many options on a daily basis. He could really be something special.
It will be interesting to see how McKay further adjusts to even better pitching in 2019. He has pop but after the promotion to Charlotte, his walk rate plummeted and his strikeout rate skyrocketed.
He could be outstanding on the mound for the Rays in the coming years. At the plate, he has the power potential to be a starter every fifth or so day and DH at the Major League level. Aside from Wander Franco, he will be the most intriguing prospect to watch in 2019. If he continues to show power as a professional, he too could add tremendous value to a Rays roster in the coming years, giving them more matchup options in pinch-hitting situations.
The Tampa Bay Rays could very well have a pair of two-way players on their 25 man roster by 2021. Having one would provide any team with great value, but adding a second further allows them to optimize their roster in ways that other teams simply wouldn’t be able to do.
In the coming years we could be seeing March headlines that read “McKay makes opening day roster as a starter and first baseman!” or “Dodson will enter season as team’s set-up man and outfielder!”.
As of right now, Shohei Ohtani is the only 2-way player in Major League Baseball player, but Brendan McKay and Tanner Dodson will soon follow. And they won’t be the only ones, McKay and Dodson could very well be joined by another 2-way player in the organization after the 2019 draft, who knows?
In high school it is extremely common for players to both pitch and play the field. Now that the Rays have a blueprint for how to develop 2-way players, they very well may look to start allowing highly athletic high schoolers to begin their professional careers as 2-way players.
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Alongside Ohtani, McKay and Dodson are forging a new path for 2-way players, especially in Tampa Bay’s system. I can’t wait to watch both of these players going forward. If they both reach Tampa as 2-way players, then the Rays will have beaten the system yet again and will be left with tons of value at the plate and on the mound.