Blackhawk ace Brendan McKay has pro scouts swooning in advance of June draft
Each with a radar gun in hand, a half dozen professional scouts squeezed into the press box at Chippewa Park while others waited on the hill just outside. This heavily armed posse has followed Blackhawk pitcher Brendan McKay for weeks.
“It's been pretty unbelievable,” said Blackhawk coach Bob Amalia, who answers text messages from scouts by the dozen, all wanting to know when the senior will throw next. “If you name a team, they've been here at least once.”
The attention is understandable. With a fastball that reaches 90 mph, the hard-throwing lefty hasn't allowed a run since last year. His 58-inning scoreless streak ranks as the nation's fourth longest.
McKay has thrown 34 scoreless innings this season and needs one more to reach third place on the all-time list. The record belongs to Mississippi pitcher Joey Porter, who threw 80 scoreless innings in 1973, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations record book.
“The streak has been brought to my attention a lot, so it's in my mind,” McKay said, “but I'm not worried about it. If somebody scores, they score. Things happen in baseball that you can't control.”
This season, though, he's controlled almost everything. In his first start of the spring, McKay struck out 20 of 21 batters. In two section starts against Central Valley, he had 35 strikeouts combined.
Amateur scouts for the Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland A's, San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners visited last Tuesday. They saw McKay strike out 14 and walk none in a one-hit victory over Montour. The only hit was an infield single.
“He's just a spectacular pitcher,” Montour coach Glenn Vietmeier said. “It's borderline unfair for him to be pitching at this level right now. I wish him nothing but the best. We enjoyed the chance to face him because I think we'll be seeing his name quite often in the future.”
Major league teams are scouting McKay in advance of next month's draft, where it seems all but certain his name will be called. The three-day draft starts June 5. For now, McKay only can wonder where he could be picked.
“I haven't heard anything yet,” said McKay, who has accepted a scholarship to Louisville. “(The uncertainty) doesn't really bother me. It's going to happen when it happens. I'll just be ready when I do get the call.”
At 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, McKay is an exceptional all-around athlete. He's the best pitcher on Blackhawk's roster and also the team's best hitter. He's 5-0 with 78 strikeouts and five walks. His batting average is above .400.
“Without a doubt, he's the best combo player we've ever had,” said Amalia, who's coached 15 Division I recruits since 2001. “If you ask our (assistant) coaches, they'll say he's the best pitcher we ever had. And maybe the best hitter, too. He's just a tremendous athlete. Great hand-eye coordination. Very competitive. The thing that kind of separates him from most kids on this level is he's always on an even keel. He's never too high, never too low. Nothing bothers him. He's just totally focused.”
The WPIAL hasn't had a baseball player create a similar buzz since Pine-Richland's Neil Walker was a first-round pick by the Pirates in 2004. Peters Township outfielder Justin Bianco, a third-round pick in 2011, was the most recent WPIAL player to sign straight from high school.
Path to the pros
The scouts watching McKay have shared little info with him. But several indicated that skipping college will be an option. If he wants to begin his professional career, he'll be given the opportunity, said one scout. McKay would like a spot in the top six rounds, which another scout said is realistic. At first, only local scouts were watching McKay. But higher-level scouts have visited recently, a promising sign for his draft stock.
“He must be a pretty high-round pick because of all I hear, but no one's told me that,” Amalia said. “I know his college coaches are really worried. If he was going to be a 20th-round pick, I couldn't imagine they'd be worried. So they must be hearing something.”
Louisville's head coach visited last week.
According to assigned pick values published by Baseball America, a sixth-rounder this year could expect more than $250,000. A fifth-rounder could land more than $300,000. But those numbers are flexible. The Cleveland Indians reportedly paid $800,000 last year to a high school left-hander from Florida picked in the fifth round. Yet, a sixth-rounder received just $150,000.
It will take a healthy offer to make McKay forgo Louisville.
“It's going to come down to what I feel is best for me and what my family feels is best,” McKay said. “We've thrown around some numbers, but (our minimum amount) hasn't been finalized yet.”
He's got the stuff
McKay's fastball touched 92 mph in the winter when he struck out minor-league batters in Arizona. He was there with an elite team from Canada that invited some American standouts. Facing Cubs prospects in one game, McKay struck out eight in four innings.
He has a reliable fastball, but his curveball might be his best pitch.
“He's thrown that magical curveball since he was 12 years old,” Blackhawk catcher Jake Emge said, with a laugh. “It has a mind of its own. Sometimes it drops straight down. Sometimes it runs across the plate. It's fun to catch. It keeps you on your toes.”
McKay's career record is 27-1, which includes a 6-0 mark as a freshman. In his first varsity inning, he struck out the side in nine pitches. After one section start, Amalia was convinced McKay was special.
“I told our coaches: This kid might not even go to college,” Amalia said. “That's how good he is. I could tell. He may end up going to college, but you knew even then he had this potential.”