6:51 pm: McKay has a flexor strain in his forearm, Topkin reports.
4:44 pm: Rays’ two-way player Brendan McKay recently suffered an elbow injury, manager Kevin Cash tells reporters (including Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times). He has received a platelet-rich plasma injection and will be shut down from throwing for two to three weeks. With only a little more than five weeks remaining in the regular season, it doesn’t seem McKay will have time to ramp back up and contribute during the stretch run.
This will be the second straight lost campaign for McKay, who last pitched in a big league game on September 29, 2019. He missed all of last season with a shoulder issue that eventually required surgery. McKay has spent the bulk of this season on the minor league injured list recovering from that procedure. The southpaw made one appearance in rookie ball in late June but was then shut down for another month before getting back on the mound. He made it back to Double-A Montgomery on August 6 and appeared in three games before incurring his current injury.
It’s particularly alarming that McKay is dealing with another arm problem, although the elbow injury would seem to be distinct from his prior shoulder issue. The PRP treatment and accompanying 2-3 week shutdown suggest there’s hope he’ll be back to health well before the start of Spring Training in 2022. It seems any chance of McKay contributing to the Rays’ playoff push at the end of this season, though, is now gone.
McKay was one of the sport’s premier prospects a few seasons ago. A two-way star at Louisville, he was drafted and has continued to develop as a two-way player. While he’s proven a solid minor league hitter, his numbers on the mound over his first couple pro seasons were downright exceptional. General consensus has been that his future is brighter as a left-handed pitcher, but McKay did continue to log reps on both sides of the ball in his playing time at Double-A this season. He reached the big leagues in 2019, pitching to a 5.14 ERA across his first 49 innings and logging eleven plate appearances. That run prevention isn’t especially impressive, but McKay posted better than average strikeout and walk rates (25.9% and 7.4%, respectively) as a 23-year-old. Because of the subsequent injuries, that remains his only big league experience to date.
The Rays have kept McKay in the minor leagues all season. He hasn’t accrued big league service time in either of the past two years, pushing back his projected path to free agency to the 2027-28 offseason. Placement on the minor league IL doesn’t remove players from the 40-man roster, so McKay continues to occupy a 40-man spot on an always-tight Tampa Bay club.
The Rays could place McKay on the major league 60-day injured list to clear a roster spot, although doing so would require paying him a major league salary and accruing MLB service time. McKay wouldn’t be in position to reach a full year of service in 2021 even if he were added to the MLB IL at this point, so it’s possible the Rays decide to so when the need for a 40-man roster spot next emerges.
Because Tampa Bay has sent McKay to the minors rather than placing him on the MLB injured list in each of the past two seasons, he’s in his third minor league option year. The majority of players cannot be optioned in more than three seasons in their career. Teams are sometimes granted a fourth option year for players who miss extended time due to injury, and it’s possible McKay could qualify for that exception. That won’t be known until next spring. If the Rays aren’t granted a fourth option on McKay, they’d have to carry him on the big league roster (or injured list) beginning in 2022 or risk losing him to another club.