Associated Press

Pitcher? Hitter? Both? MLB draft marked by 2-way players


NEW YORK (AP) Brendan McKay’s fastball-firing left arm has made him the possible No. 1 overall pick in the Major League Baseball draft.

Thing is, so has the Louisville slugger’s bat.

The Cardinals star is one of college baseball’s greatest two-way players, a rare talent who has given big league ballclubs a tough question to consider: Do they take McKay as a pitcher, hitter – or both?

“That remains to be seen, whether or not someone can do that,” said Minnesota Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey, whose team picks first in the draft that starts Monday night. “I’m not necessarily saying it’s impossible, but the amount of time, if you talk to any of these guys, that they put in on either the hitting side or the pitching side, to double that, no one’s figured out a way to make more than 24 hours in a day.

“If someone figures that out, maybe we’ll have an opportunity, but it’s a challenge.”

With McKay, though, a team might be willing to find out. He won his third straight John Olerud Two-Way Player award on Monday after hitting .343 with 17 home runs and 56 RBIs for the College World Series-bound Cardinals. He’s also 10-3 with a 2.34 ERA on the mound.

Two-way players in high school and college aren’t uncommon in the draft, with Olerud, Dave Winfield, Ken Brett, Jason Jennings and A.J. Reed among the big names whom major league teams had to make a call on. But this year’s draft class has a handful expected to be selected early.

In addition to McKay, California high school shortstop and right-handed pitcher Hunter Greene has piqued lots of interest from teams picking early, including the Twins.

“There are a lot of two-way players in every draft, but for 2017, a number of first-round talents have significant experience as two-way players,” said Atlanta Braves general manager John Coppolella, whose team picks No. 5 overall. “There may come a day where there is a true impact two-way player, but until that day, you just choose one outcome and know the other possibility looms if failure occurs.”

Kentucky high school outfielder Jordon Adell, Texas high school right-hander Shane Baz and Virginia outfielder Adam Haseley are others who have pulled double-duty on the diamond and are expected to be first-rounders.

“The talents of the players and how things play out, you try to be as open-minded as you can,” said Tampa Bay Rays GM Erik Neander, whose team picks fourth overall. “I think the history of the professional game and what it looks like, we’re certainly cognizant of the perspective of going one direction or the other. But it’s quite an accomplishment to do it at the collegiate level.”

Here are some other things to know about the draft:

WHEN? WHERE?: Starts Monday at 7 p.m. EDT and continues for 40 rounds over three days, with the first two rounds at MLB Network’s studios in Secaucus, New Jersey. Rounds 3-10 will be held Tuesday, and rounds 11-40 Wednesday – both days via team conference calls. Teams pick in reverse order of finish from the overall standings from last season.

FIRST PICK: The Twins have the No. 1 overall pick for the third time, and first since taking Minnesota high school catcher Joe Mauer in 2001.

OTHER NAMES TO KNOW: Vanderbilt right-hander Kyle Wright, North Carolina high school lefty MacKenzie Gore, California high school shortstop/outfielder Royce Lewis and North Carolina high school outfielder Austin Beck.

SHOWING UP: Four top prospects are expected to be at the draft site, where they’ll shake hands with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and slip on their new team’s cap and jersey: Greene, Adell, New Mexico high school left-hander Trevor Rogers and Alabama high school outfielder Bubba Thompson.

WHO ELSE IS THERE?: Each of baseball’s 30 teams has a former player and/or current member of its front office representing them at the draft. Among those scheduled to attend are Hall of Famer George Brett (Kansas City Royals), 1973 NL Rookie of the Year Gary Matthews (Philadelphia Phillies), 1976 NL Cy Young winner Randy Jones (San Diego Padres), 1983 AL Rookie of the Year Ron Kittle (Chicago White Sox) and former All-Stars such as Bob Boone (Washington Nationals) and Ron Cey (Los Angeles Dodgers). Lloyd Moseby, the No. 2 overall pick by the Toronto Blue Jays in 1978, and Jeffrey Hammonds, No. 4 overall in 1992 by the Baltimore Orioles, are also expected to be there.

EARLY ACTION: Toronto (22nd and 28th), the Texas Rangers (26th and 29th) and the Chicago Cubs (27th and 30th) each have two first-round selections, including compensatory picks. Houston and Pittsburgh both have four picks in the first 75 selections. For the Pirates, that includes No. 42 overall, which they received after failing to come to terms with lefty Nick Lodolo, the No. 41 pick who chose to attend Texas Christian instead of signing.

QUIET CARDINALS: St. Louis won’t pick until the third round on Tuesday. The Cardinals had to give their first-round selection to the Cubs for signing free agent Dexter Fowler, and forfeited their next two picks (Nos. 56 and 75) – along with $2 million – to Houston after MLB completed its investigation into a data breach of the Astros’ baseball operations database by a former St. Louis employee.

AP Sports Writers Jon Krawczynski and Charles Odum, and AP Freelance Writer Mark Didtler contributed to this report.

Pete Mackanin doesn’t know if he’ll be back as Phillies manager next year

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Back in May the Phillies gave Pete Mackanin a contract extension covering the remainder of 2017, all of 2018 and created a team option for 2019. Yesterday, however, Mackanin said he had no idea if the Phillies were going to bring him back as manager next season:

“I assume I’ll be here, but you never know. You never know what they’re going to do. So you just keep moving on. I just take it a day at a time and manage the way I think I should manage and handle players the way I think I should handle them. That’s all I can do. If it’s not good enough then … fine. I hope it’s good enough. I hope he thinks it’s good enough.”

Maybe that’s just cautious talk, though, as there doesn’t seem to be any signals coming from the Phillies front office that Mackanin is in trouble. If anything things have looked up in the second half of the season with the callups of Rhys Hoskins and Nick Williams each of whom have shown that they belong in the bigs. The team is 33-37 since the All-Star break and is certainly a better team now than the one Mackanin started with in April. And it’s not his fault that they don’t have any pitching.

I suspect Mackanin will be back next year, but Mackanin has been around the block enough times to know that nothing is guaranteed for a big league manager. Even one under contract.

How not to enjoy what Aaron Judge is doing

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Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge has been one of the biggest and best stories in all of baseball this year. While he held promise entering his rookie season, most experts figured he’d provide some low-average, low-OBP power. That he’d be a guy who, based on his size, could send a pitcher’s mistake 500 feet in the wrong direction, but who would probably be shown to have big holes in his swing once he’d been around the league a little bit.

Judge defied expectations, however, and has put together an amazing rookie season. He broke the rookie home run record yesterday with his 50th blast. He still strikes out a lot but so does everyone. He nonetheless has hit for a great average and has gotten on base at a fantastic clip. He has also showed some uncommon resilience, overcoming a lengthy slump in July and August and returning to the dominant form he showed in the first half while helping a Yankees team not many figured to be a strong contender into the playoffs. Such a great story!

Sadly, however, this sentiment, which appeared from a commenter on my Facebook page yesterday, has become increasingly common:

I’ve seen it in a lot of comments sections and message boards around the Internet too, including our own comment section. From yesterday:

This is not exactly the same thing we’ve seen in the past with other breakout home run hitters such as Jose Bautista a few years back. This is not an accusation that Judge is taking drugs or anything. It’s more of a preemptive and defensive diminishment of excitement. And I find it rather sad.

Yes, I understand that past PED users have made fans wonder whether the players they watch are using something to get an extra edge, but it really does not need to be this way. We’ve had drug testing in baseball for over a decade and, while no drug testing regime is perfect, it just seems bizarre, several years after Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa did their thing — and a few years after Alex Rodriguez and others were caught and disciplined for trying to do more — to assume, out of hand, that great baseball performances are the product of undetected cheating. Yes, it’s possible, but such assumptions should not be the default stance, only to be disproved (somehow) at a later date.

The same goes for the juiced baseball, right? Yes, there is strong evidence that the baseball was changed a couple of years back leading to a home run spike, but aren’t all players using the same baseball? It’s also worth remembering that the season Mark McGwire hit 49 homers — 1987 — is strongly suspected of being a juiced ball year as well. It’s a concern that may be based in fact, but it’s a large concern over a fact thrown out with little regard for context to sketch out a threat that is either remote or without consequence.

The point here is not to argue that Aaron Judge is undeniably clean or that the baseball isn’t different. The former is unknown and the latter is likely false. The point is that it’s super sad and self-defeating to qualify every amazing feat you see with preemptive concern about such things. Years and years of sports writers writing McCarthy-esque “Yes, but is he clean?” articles does not require you, as a fan, to do the same. You can enjoy a cool thing in the moment. If it’s found out later to have been tainted, fine, we have a lot of practice in contextualizing such things and we’ll do so pretty quickly, but what’s the harm in going with it in real time?

I suspect the answer to that is rooted in some desire not to look like a sucker or something. Not to find oneself like many did, in the mid-2000s, being told by sportswriters and politicians that they were dupes for enjoying Sosa and McGwire in 1998. But that’s idiotic, in my view. I enjoyed 1998 and all of the baseball I saw on either side of it, as did most baseball fans. When the PEDs stuff exploded in the 2000s I reassessed it somewhat as far as the magnitude of the accomplishments compared to other eras in history, but it didn’t mean I enjoyed what I had seen any less.

Likewise, I’ve enjoyed the hell out of watching Aaron Judge this year. Why can’t everyone? Why is it so hard? Why have we been conditioned to be skeptical of something that is supposed to be entertaining? When your personal stakes are low like they are with respect to any sporting event or form of entertainment, it’s OK to enjoy things while they’re enjoyable and worry about them being problematic if and when they ever become so. And hey, they may not!

I promise you: if Aaron Judge walks into the postseason awards banquet this winter carrying a briefcase that unexpectedly opens and 200 syringes full of nandrolone fall out, no one is going to say you were dumb for cheering for him yesterday. It will really be OK.