Monday, May 1, 2017

There's only one way

As discussed in the Monday print column, the two most likely candidates for the Twins to take with the first pick next month are two-way players. Hunter Greene and Brendan McKay are legitimate prospects both as pitchers and hitters.

But when they enter pro ball, they will drop one. It may not be their idea or their choice -- indeed, both have reportedly indicated an interest in being two-way players in the pros -- but no organization is going to invest $7 million and such a premium draft pick in a player on the supposition that he can do both. It's both a health issue and a developmental one.

Consider Greene, who plays shortstop for his high school team in the San Diego area when he is not on the mound. Teens with his extreme velocity -- he's been clocked at 102 mph this spring -- are rare, but they also come with high injury risk. Letting him pitch one day and play shortstop the next -- making throws off balance and from the hole -- only figures to add to the risk.

McKay's injury risk is somewhat less than Greene's. He's older, he has less velocity, and his non-pitching position, first base, is the spot on the diamond that requires the least from the throwing arm. But the risk is there anyway, because pitchers get hurt, period.

The other concern is developmental. Do not underestimate the amount of work even top prospects face in advancing their abilities to succeed in the majors. Again, the risk here is higher with the younger, less polished Greene, but it is genuine for McKay as well. Splitting their development between pitching and hitting may mean not succeeding at either.

Casey Kelly was drafted in the first round of the 2008 draft by the Red Sox out of high school as a pitcher/shortstop. He split his first two years in the minors between pitching and short before dropping the position for the 2010 season. He's a pitcher now -- but at age 27 in his fourth organization (Boston, San Diego, Atlanta and now the Cubs), and while he has reached the majors he certainly hasn't succeeded. I can't prove that the indecision in his teens undermined him, but it probably didn't help.

There are occasional two-way guys in the majors -- Christian Bethancourt made the Padres out of spring training this year as a pitcher/catcher but has since been sent down, and Brooks Kieschnick milked a couple of partial seasons in the majors as a reliever/pinch hitter a bit more than a decade ago -- but they are essentially fringe players. Teams certainly expect more than that out of players taken at the top of the draft.

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