Left-handed pitcher Brendan McKay from Blackhawk HS in Beaver Falls, PA has made quite a name for himself recently in the draft circuit, and he’s getting famous for what he hasn’t done. McKay hasn’t allowed a run in quite awhile, compiling a 69 inning scoreless streak, which covers this entire season and part of last year. He’s striking out batters at an incredible rate this season, with 101 in 45 innings.
He’s grabbing local headlines, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the Pittsburgh Pirates will go out of their way to draft him next week. He could be an option for them if he’s the best player available when the Pirates make one of their selections on the second day of the draft, which starts with round three next Friday.
You won’t get player specific quotes from Pirates GM Neal Huntington, who obviously doesn’t want to tip his hand before the draft, but he did recently speak to the media about drafting local players in general and how the Pirates go about it.
“We cover them the way we cover everybody else. We’re certainly aware of guys that are local. Some organizations seem to go out of their way to make sure they draft a local guy. We want to make sure we understand where they could go and what they can become.”
As Huntington points out, being local makes for a nice story, although passing up someone who you think better just to take that local player, could be a big mistake.
“We’d love to have another Neil Walker come through the system and have another local guy make it big and become a big-time player. That’d be fantastic. But we’d hate to take a guy that we like because he’s local over a guy that we liked a little bit more because he’s not local and have that guy go on to be a pretty good player.”
Baseball America recently ranked McKay as the 163rd best player in this draft class. That puts him at the back-end of the fifth round and buzz around him recently has said that he will likely go in the 4/5 range.
McKay has some qualities you really like in a pitcher. Being left-handed at PNC certainly has its advantages and he throws a lot of strikes using a three-pitch mix. His curve is above average already and his change-up shows signs of being at least average in the future. There are also some things that keep him from being a higher ranked player in this draft class. McKay doesn’t throw especially hard, sitting high 80’s and touching 91 MPH. At 6’1″, 220 pounds, he has a good frame already, but scouts don’t see much projection with him.
No matter how many shutout innings you throw as a high school pitcher, you have to take in the quality of opposition into account and judge the player based on his future potential.
So while Brendan McKay could certainly be an option for the Pirates next Friday, Neal Huntington’s comments tell you that they won’t just take him early because he is local. You’d like a feel good story to emerge from the draft, but you also want to trust the scouts in your system and make sure that you’re getting as much talent as possible out of the draft.
McKay Isn’t the Only Local Talent
While McKay’s streak is obviously and deservedly grabbing all the headlines around town, he is overshadowing another local player that could be just as good. Norwin HS in North Huntingdon, PA has a power-hitting shortstop with a quick bat from the left side. J.J. Matijevic will be a corner infielder in the pros, but he projects to have a bat that will play anywhere. Matijevic has turned himself into a “physical specimen” according to his recent Baseball America scouting report. At 6’0″, 211 pounds, he should be able to translate that size into power and hit for average in the pros.
This season, he hit .607 with ten homers in 56 at-bats. He could have a chance to play third base in the pros, though his arm is listed as average, so that may eventually push him to first base. Just like with the southpaw McKay being helped by PNC Park, it also looks good for a power-hitting lefty.
Matijevic was ranked just 22 spots behind McKay in Baseball America’s top 200 draft prospects list. He was actually ranked higher by some sources coming into the year. While some scouts differ on where he could go in the draft, Matijevic will likely need to be taken on the second day for him to sign. Some team could make room in their draft bonus pool to take him after the tenth round and offer him above-slot money, but with a strong commitment to the University of Arizona, he will be harder to sign the further he drops.
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.