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College | Story | 6/13/2017

McKay leads '17 college awards

Patrick Ebert     
Photo: Louisville Sports Information

Super Regional Recap/CWS Field Set
| College Top 25 | Players/Pitchers of the Week | College Player Database

Here is the full list of the 2017 Perfect Game Rawlings College Player and Pitcher of the Week:

Date Player of the Week Pitcher of the Week
Feb. 22 Brendan McKay, Louisville Robbie Welhaf, Elon
Feb. 29 Gavin Sheets, Wake Forest Justin Dillon, Sacramento State
March 7 Joey Bart, Georgia Tech David Peterson, Oregon
March 14 Nick Patten, Delaware Eli Morgan, Gonzaga
March 21 Jake Scheiner, Houston Sean Hjelle, Kentucky
March 28 Matt Lloyd, Indiana Cory Abbott, Loyola Marymount
April 4 Drew Lugbauer, Michigan Tim Cate, UConn
April 11 Brent Rooker, Mississippi State Logan Gilbert, Stetson
April 18 Stuart Fairchild, Wake Forest Kyle Wright, Vanderbilt
April 25 Andrew Vaughn, California Eli Morgan, Gonzaga
May 2 Brendan McKay, Louisville David Peterson, Oregon
May 9 Micah Coffey, Minnesota Oliver Jaskie, Michigan
May 16 Riley Mahan, Kentucky Bailey Ober, College of Charleston
May 23 Scott Hurst, Cal State Fullerton Tyler Holton, Florida State
May 30 Chad Spanberger, Arkansas Glenn Otto, Rice
June 6 Will Toffey, Vanderbilt Will Zirzow, Florida State
June 13 Taylor Walls, Florida State Bryce Fehmel, Oregon State

2017 Perfect Game/Rawlings Player of the Year:

Brendan McKay, Louisville

McKay was named the Perfect Game/Rawlings Player of the Week twice this season, as he pretty much was a candidate each and every week given his two-way talents to the point where you could easily name the award the “Brendan McKay Player of the Week.” Similarly, he also received the John Olerud trophy, honoring the top two-way player in the nation, for the third year in a row, and given his success in both roles the past three seasons if that award didn’t already exist it could be created with McKay’s name, and not Olerud’s, adorning it.

Although Mississippi State’s Brent Rooker certainly gave McKay a run for his money for the overall Player of the Year honors, McKay’s two-way production is simply too loud to top. He started his college career as the Perfect Game Freshman of the Year, and continued to receive All-American honors one year after the other.

The talent also appears to translate well to the next level. On Monday the Tampa Bay Rays made him the fourth overall pick in the MLB Draft, and as he prepares for the College World Series for the first time in his career it’s hard not to sit in amazement at his overall career numbers:

As a hitter:
.328/.432/.533 in 188 games, 649 at-bats, 46 doubles, 3 triples, 27 home runs, 131 RBI and a 107-to-111 walk-to-strikeout ratio.

As a pitcher:
31-10 with a 2.15 ERA in 53 games, 46 of which were starts, 310 1/3 innings pitched allowing 211 hits and 109 walks with 385 strikeouts, limiting opposing hitters to a .191 average.

While he may have had his ‘worst’ season as a pitcher (10-3 with a 2.34 ERA) during his junior season, he exploded as a hitter (.343 with 17 home runs and 56 RBI). And for easy as he made pitching look his raw power frequently drew the highest single grade (70 on the 20-to-80 scale) from scouts.

It wasn’t uncommon for those onlooking scouts to fall in love with McKay’s pitching prowess on a Friday of any given weekend series during his three-year career, only to find themselves second-guessing where he fit best in the future after watching the remaining two games of those series.

Perfect Game Scout Jheremy Brown, who saw McKay to open the 2017 season, can be identified as one of those scouts left pondering his future worth and had this to say about his pitching performance:

Working from a high three-quarters arm slot the Pennsylvania native did a nice job of hiding the ball behind his back hip before generating solid arm speed which helped produce a fastball that sat very comfortably in the 91-93 mph range throughout, touching 94 mph on a couple of guns early. The velocity and fact that he’s lefthanded are nice but it was his ability to command the strike zone, particularly the lower third, that truly helps set him apart (read the full report here).

Three days later Brown filed this report on McKay’s hitting talents:

…McKay found barrel after barrel in Louisville’s first three games, and twice left the yard, showing scouts the raw power they marvel when watching batting practice. The stance, load, trigger and swing are all perfectly balanced and plenty quiet, as are his hands which are so fluid you almost don’t realize the explosiveness of them through the zone. Whether it’s a foul line to foul line round of batting practice with line drive contact, or turning on balls in game when he let it rip, McKay’s barrel skills are evident as is the fluidity to his bat path. Even the outs he made this weekend were barreled hard including a hard shot back up the middle which left the bat at 106 mph before the pitcher got a glove on it. (read the full report here).

McKay made a positive impression at the 2013 WWBA World Championship while in high school, traveling with the Canadian-based DBacks Team BC squad and was named to the All-Tournament Team for that event, striking out 10 batters in 4 2/3 innings.

“I had never done a Perfect Game event like that, so when you see a couple hundred coaches and scouts riding around in golf carts and they’re all (circling) the field while you’re playing, it’s different and even a little weird,” McKay told Perfect Game’s Jeff Dahn in April. “It’s like, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of people here watching’ and you know if there are a lot of carts at one particular field there must be somebody pretty big over there that everyone wants to watch.”

He also would travel with the Langley Blaze squad at times, and while the Padres drafted him in the 34th round out of high school in 2014, that was nowhere close to being high enough to sign him away from Head Coach Dan McDonnell and the University of Louisville.

“I really was like, one day I’m going to sign and the next day I’m going to go to school and play with a couple of the guys I had already met,” McKay said. “At that point, it was more of just trying to figure it out and put in my mind and in my heart what I wanted to do.”

Now McKay’s dream of playing at the professional level will have to wait as he and his Louisville teammates play in the College World Series for the first time since becoming a member of the ACC. However, this does mark Head Coach Dan McDonnell’s fourth time guiding his club to Omaha, last doing so in back-to-back years in 2013 and 2014.

And while McKay will continue to help his team win in any way he can, at some point it seems unevitable that he will have to make a choice, if the Twins don’t do that for him.

“Everybody asks me, ‘Does it feel better to hit a walk-off or strikeout the side to end the game?’ and they both have the same feel, the same amount of excitement that I’ll see,” McKay said. “It’ll come to somebody is going to choose – he’s going to be a pitcher, he’s going to be a hitter – and I’ll be ready for whatever they want to throw my way.”

Also see: Two-way McKay leads Cards

2017 Perfect Game/Rawlings Freshman of the Year:

Braden Shewmake, Texas A&M

It didn’t take long for Braden Shewmake to make a strong impression on the Texas A&M coaching staff. From fall workouts the word started to circulate about a rangy 6-foot-4, 180-pound middle infielder that was turning heads with his overall play, standing out for his bat, his glove and his wheels. As a result, Shewmake entered the spring as the 12th-ranked freshman in the nation, and was pegged by Perfect Game as the projected Freshman of the Year in the SEC.

Once the 2017 season opened it also didn’t take long for Shewmake to make an impression when it counted in game situations.

Shewmake’s emergence couldn’t have come at a better time. The Aggies lost nearly their entire starting lineup from a year ago, including SEC Player of the Year Boomer White, to the 2016 MLB Draft. While they entered the year ranked 26th it largely had to do with their enviable pitching depth, as they had more questions than answers pertaining to their starting nine.

While pitching was the clear strength for Texas A&M this season, finishing first in the SEC in ERA (3.42), the hitting also proved to be solid. As a team the Aggies hit .275, sixth-best in conference, with 384 runs scored, fifth best in the circuit.

Leading the way was Shewmake, who led the team in batting (.335), hits (89), doubles (17), home runs (11), RBI (68), total bases (143) and slugging percentage (.538) hitting from the two-hole. He also tied for the team lead in stolen bases with 11, and only committed four errors on the year at second base.

Not only did he lead the Aggies in several offensive categories, he was also among the national leaders in hits (currently tied for 20th and sure to rise with more plate appearances to come in Omaha) and RBI (currently tied for 15th).

Similar to McKay, it didn’t take long for Perfect Game’s Jheremy Brown to see Shewmake first hand, submitting the following report after the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic in Houston:

Listed at a long and rangy 6-foot-4, 180-pounds, everything Shewmake does is loose and athletic, whether it’s taking ground balls at second base or digging into the lefthanded batter’s box … Shewmake’s frame can still withstand another good chunk of strength without inhibiting his abilities anywhere on the field … Currently Coach Rob Childress’s starting second baseman, all signs point to him moving to the opposite side of the bag where he could play lockdown defense either at shortstop or third base.

It’s scary to think that his offense is only going to improve with added strength as he already shows an advanced feel for the barrel and rarely seems to misfire through the zone. On the weekend Shewmake picked up another five bats hits, including a two-run home run and a triple to the pull side … The swing path is full and fluid coming through and he’s able to keep the barrel in the zone for a long time, part of the reason why he’s able to square it up time and time again (read the full report here).

With the expected graduation of shortstop Austin Homan, Shewmake may get his chance to show his talents on the other side of second base as early as next season, where he has the lateral quickness, smooth actions and arm strength, not to mention natural leadership skills, to be an asset. Given his offensive talents, coupled with his defensive ones, he is certainly a name to watch the next few years and could help ensure that Texas A&M’s appearance in the College World Series isn’t a one-and-done affair.

2017 Perfect Game/Rawlings Coach of the Year:

Nick Mingione, Kentucky

It’s only one year but it’s pretty clear that the culture for the Kentucky baseball program has already changed, significantly. That isn’t meant to say anything against the previous coaching staff, led by Gary Henderson who stepped down from his position last June and always kept the Wildcats competitive and in the postseason conversation. However, first-year Head Coach Nick Mingione did the one thing no other Kentucky coach had done in the past: advance past the Regionals.

Mingione was hired last June after spending the previous eight seasons under John Cohen at Mississippi State, which included a runner-up finish at the College World Series in 2013. He was also an assistant under Cohen for the 2006 and 2007 seasons at Kentucky when the Wildcats claimed their first SEC championship in 2006.

With a background in hitting (and recruiting), it’s no surprise that Kentucky led the SEC in batting (.316, over 20 points higher than the second-place team) and runs scored (484). They finished the season 43-23, losing their two Super Regional games to Louisville after hosting (and winning) their home Regional in Lexington.

After sweeping Texas A&M, on the road in College Station, to open SEC play this past year the program also enjoyed signature series wins over Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Missouri, LSU and South Carolina. All seven of those teams spent time in the Top 25 this season. Of course, so did Kentucky, who were ranked 11th heading into the postseason after not opening the season in the Top 25.

Mingione’s energy and enthusiasm were contagious, and he recognized from day one that he needed to surround himself with an equally energized coaching staff to be successful.

Jim Belanger was hired to take over the pitching staff after spending four years with Maryland and an overall impressive track record of success. Much of the same could be said about Roland Fanning, who has an extensive track record working with hitters and has also been an effective recruiting coordinator.

And while most of the team that won this past season was made up of the previous coaching staff’s recruiting classes, it’s important to note that Kentucky has already assembled the 18th-best recruiting class for the 2017-18 school year. Their early recruiting efforts for 2018-19 have also been fruitful, with another class that is currently ranked 18th in the nation.

Many of the faces on next year’s team will be new ones as some of the team’s impact performers are expected to move on to the next level, but with a young nucleus, more talent on the way and an equally talented coaching staff led by Mingione, Kentucky appears to be poised to remain in the postseason picture for years to come.

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