It wouldn’t be overstating things to say Blackhawk High School’s Brendan McKay has a chance to go down as one of the best pitchers in WPIAL history. Sheer numbers back up the claim.
How many pitchers at a larger-classification school have a 23-1 career record and a 0.50 ERA two weeks into their senior seasons?
But what lies beneath McKay’s statistics is talent, extraordinary talent that could make this Blackhawk left-hander one for the WPIAL ages. In fact, age doesn’t limit his dominance.
McKay was invited to play some exhibition games recently in Arizona with the Langley Blaze, a prestigious team from British Columbia that included some hand-picked U.S. high school prospects and a number of players from British Columbia. They played against minor league players from major league organizations who were in spring training.
McKay pitched four innings in one game, gave up one hit and struck out eight.
“That was against the Chicago Cubs prospects, a lot of their Class AA minor league players,” McKay said.
Uh-huh. Anything else?
“I threw three innings against the [Cincinnati] Reds prospects and had three or four strikeouts,” McKay said. “And I threw four or five innings against the [Kansas City] Royals scout team and struck out 10.”
There was also this: “His fastball out there,” Blackhawk coach Bob Amalia said, “was topping out in the low 90s.”
So now, fresh from playing against older players in the land of cactus, McKay is sticking it to teenage kids around the WPIAL.
McKay has pitched one game for Blackhawk so far this season. He got all 21 outs in a seven-inning contest against Shenango. And get this: 20 of them were strikeouts. Shenango did manage one hit, but McKay didn’t walk a batter.
The performance stretched his high school scoreless-inning streak to 31, dating to last season, and added more evidence to the notion that McKay has a chance to be one of the all-time greats. He has a chance to finish with more than 30 career wins, which is unheard of for Class AAA or AAAA pitchers.
“I was an assistant coach here for 23 years and this is my seventh year as head coach and he is the best high school pitcher I have ever seen,” Shenango coach Mike Othites said. “You know how you watch Pirates games and they swing at pitches in the dirt and you say ‘How can they swing at pitches in the dirt?’ Well, that’s what he was doing to us.
“Plus he was throwing it completely by us. I’m not saying we’re a tremendous hitting team, but we have some pretty good hitters. He’s the real deal.”
McKay has been a big deal since his freshman year. Through his first three seasons, his statistics were jaw-dropping — 256 strikeouts in 182 innings. Now the bad news for the rest of the WPIAL — he is bigger, stronger and better.
McKay is 6 feet 1, 220 pounds, and added velocity to his fastball. It’s early in the season, in chilly weather, and he is already throwing in the high 80s. Add a terrific curveball — “almost unhittable,” Amalia said — an improved changeup … and he’s left-handed. Throw in his hitting ability (he batted better than .400 the past three seasons) and you have a terrific all-around player.
McKay has certainly blossomed under Amalia.
“I would say I’ve increased my velocity a lot, but I think I’ve just gotten smarter with how to play baseball,” McKay said.
Major league scouts already have taken notice. McKay is scheduled to pitch today at Central Valley, “and I bet we’ll have 10 major league scouts there,” Amalia said.
It seems highly likely that McKay will get taken in June’s Major League Baseball draft. He is rated by a few baseball scouting services as one of the top pitchers in the Atlantic Region. Amalia said he has heard McKay could be picked in the top 10 or top five rounds in June.
But the draft can be hard to predict for high school players. Since 1980, only one WPIAL pitcher has been taken out of high school in the top three rounds of the draft. That was Butler’s Matt Clement, who was taken in the third round by San Diego in 1993.
“The thing that really separates him from high school kids is his ability to throw strikes with any pitch, in any count,” Amalia said.
Being left-handed helps McKay’s stock, too. But he also has a scholarship to the University of Louisville, which played in the College World Series in 2013 and is ranked No. 8 in Division I this season.
Will a major league team draft McKay high enough and offer enough money to sway him away from college?
“Louisville called me the other day and they are on pins and needles because they don’t know what he’s going to do,” Amalia said. “He’s really in a no-lose situation.”
McKay and his parents, Bruce and Kim, have considered getting an agent when the draft comes around.
“If [the draft] doesn’t work out in my favor, I can go play in college and get better,” said McKay, who has a 3.4 grade-point average.
“It all comes down to what is best for me and what my family feels will benefit me the most.”
That’s McKay’s cool, calm demeanor coming through. Amalia, and even opposing coaches, remark about how McKay is expressionless as a pitcher, no matter the situation.
Even his classmates and friends notice McKay’s calmness. For example, Chassidy Omogrosso, a star girls basketball player at Blackhawk, observed that.
“I know him pretty well, but even to me, he’ll just say a couple words,” Omogrosso said with a laugh. “He’s just quiet.”
McKay said: “When I’m around people I don’t know real well, I am quiet. But once I get to know you pretty well, I’ll come out of my bubble and crack some jokes.”
And when it comes to McKay’s baseball talent, the volume is on high.
Mike White: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh.