There is an athlete on Louisville’s campus right now who is doing things that we never thought a non-basketball-playing Cardinal could do. A dual threat athlete who has become his sport’s most recognizable performer and who is generating more attention for the program he represents than we would have ever thought was possible 20 years ago. This is not a column about Lamar Jackson. This is a column about Brendan McKay.
If you haven’t been paying attention to what McKay has been doing this season, or for the past two, then the time to start is right now. A year ago, McKay became the first player ever to win the John Olerud Award, given to the best two-way player in college baseball, in back-to-back seasons. He seems like a pretty safe bet to make it a three-peat in 2017, and he’s also the current odds-on favorite to bring home the Golden Spikes Award, which is essentially college baseball’s Heisman Trophy.
With the continuing success of the Louisville baseball program and the way Dan McDonnell is recruiting, it’s certainly possible that the Cardinals will have another player in the hunt for the Golden Spikes Award soon. They could also just as easily have another player who is talked about in terms of being a potential No. 1 pick in the MLB Draft. Heck, it was just a year ago that outfielder Corey Ray fit both of those descriptions.
Still, McKay is different. While his ascent to national prominence and individual glory may be replicated by a future Cardinal or two, the way he made it happen likely won’t be.
McKay is the most dominant pitcher in all of college baseball. Through eight starts, he maintains a sparkling 1.19 ERA (the lowest of any starter in the ACC), has allowed only 31 hits over 53 innings, and has struck out 76 opposing hitters and walked only 12. These numbers alone would be reason enough for a Major League team to select the Darlington, Pennsylvania native with the first overall pick. But there’s more.
McKay might also be the best overall hitter in all of college baseball. Despite opposing pitchers being overly cautious when the 6-foot-2, 220-pound junior steps in the box, McKay enters this weekend hitting .405, the best mark in the ACC. He leads UofL in that category as well as home runs (7), slugging percentage (.685), on-base percentage (.524) and walks (28).
“You have a lot of guys who are two-way players, but one skill kind of overshadows the other,’’ McDonnell told Yahoo Sports earlier this month. “If you put Brendan the pitcher on one side and Brendan the hitter on the other side, they could almost have their own competition to see who’s better at that craft.’’
The extent of McKay’s versatility was fully felt in Louisville’s series-opening win over Georgia Tech last week in Atlanta. Even on a relatively pedestrian night at the plate, McKay still managed to produce twice as many hits by himself (2) as he allowed to the Yellow Jackets (1) over eight dominant innings. The Cardinals won the game 3-0 and went on to produce their third series sweep of an ACC opponent so far this season.
None of this has gone unnoticed to the outside world, which typically doesn’t turn its attention to college baseball until the NCAA tournament rolls around.
In the last two weeks, McKay has been interviewed live on ESPN as well as profiled by the Associated Press, USA Today and Baseball America. He was also the subject of a shareable video produced by ESPNU, which referred to the Cardinal superstar as a “modern day Babe Ruth.”
Whether McKay’s future in professional baseball will be defined by his prowess on the mound or at the plate or by both is impossible to know at this moment. What isn’t impossible to know is that whenever Louisville’s 2017 baseball season has come to a close, McKay will have solidified his status as the best to have ever played the game in a Cardinal uniform.
Get out to Jim Patterson Stadium and see him with your own eyes while you still have the chance. VT