It was a dream come true for Blue Springs South graduate Tyler McKay when he was selected in the 16th round by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2018 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft.
He joined the minor leagues after spending three semesters at Kansas State and then transferring to Howard College, a junior college in Big Springs, Texas, as a sophomore. Now, he’s working on climbing the ladder to the majors.
“My parents always told me that was a dream of mine growing up,” McKay said of playing in the major leagues. “I’ve been playing baseball since I was 7-8 years old. Last year getting drafted was awesome.
“It’s a long road to get there. There are a lot of good pitchers. I just have to outwork those guys.”
He’s a starting pitcher for the Lakewood BlueClaws, a low-A team based in New Jersey. He got off to a nice start to his career with the Gulf Coast League Phillies last season. He made four appearances, including one start and pitched 7 ⅓ innings, compiling a 2.45 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP (walks and hits allowed per inning pitched).
“When I went down there, I got sick with mono,” McKay said of playing in the GCL. “I kind of had to battle through that. Then I came back and threw well. Then I went to the instructional league and threw well there.”
He also showed promise in a spring training game against the Baltimore Orioles on Feb. 28. He tossed a scoreless ninth inning and struck out two batters, including DJ Stewart, who has played seven games in the major leagues his season; and Mike Yastrzemski, who currently is an everyday outfielder for the San Francisco Giants and is the son of Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski.
“That was probably the coolest experience,” said McKay, who also got to pitch against Phillies major leaguer Roman Quinn, who was rehabbing at the time; and got to play with Philadelphia utilityman Scott Kingery, “having those guys behind me when I pitched.
“Just being with those guys (Quinn and Kingery), it was pretty nerve-wracking. Once I got out on the mound, it kind of went away.”
With the BlueClaws, McKay got off to a slow start and had an earned run average as high as 10.13 six appearances into the season. Since then the former Jaguar has improved quite a bit. He now has a 5.05 ERA, a 1.23 WHIP (walks and hits allowed per inning pitched) and 57 strikeouts in 66 innings.
His early struggles were due to being unable to locate his pitches were he wanted to. McKay later got with his pitching coach and made some adjustments.
“I gave up 16 runs in my first 12 innings pitched,” McKay said. “I gave those up mostly on walks and mistakes here and there. It’s a long road and a long season. I feel like I am throwing a lot better now.
“It all starts with fastball command and establishing that and working the offspeed off of that. I made some adjustments with my front side, throwing strikes. I kind of got better from there.”
Some of his newfound success can be attributed to a changeup that he developed in college. While the pitch only has a 4-5 mph difference from his fastball, it has sharp, late downward action to it.
“That’s probably my best pitch now,” McKay said. “I used it some in college and now that I am in the minors, I am throwing it a lot more. I use it to get a lot of weak contact early in counts and I used it a lot against lefties.”
With his recent improved play, McKay has set a reachable goal for himself.
“I want to get to 100-plus innings,” said McKay, who is only 32 innings away from meeting that goal. “If I get to that, that means I am getting through my innings and I am doing my job.”