University of Louisville pitcher-first baseman Brendan McKay, the fourth overall pick in the MLB first-year player draft, has signed with the Tampa Bay Rays for a record-setting bonus of $7,007,500.
McKay's bonus is the highest since baseball's current draft signing system went into effect in 2012. It surpasses the recent $7 million bonus received by Vanderbilt pitcher and Atlanta Braves first-round pick Kyle Wright, who broke the previous high of $6,708,400 established by Kris Bryant with the Chicago Cubs in 2013.
McKay, a 21-year-old Darlington, Pennsylvania, native, is considered by many observers to have enjoyed the most illustrious career in college baseball history. He is a three-time winner of the John Olerud Award as the best two-way player in college ball, and he recently received the Dick Howser Trophy as the top player in the nation. Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball magazine both chose him as their 2017 Player of the Year.
"It feels pretty awesome to know that you get to continue playing the game you love,'' McKay told ESPN.com. "Getting paid to do it is pretty fun as well. It's pretty neat to hold the record. But at some point it's going to be broken, so it's not that big a deal to me.''
McKay, who passed a physical exam Tuesday to make the deal official, will travel to Los Angeles on Wednesday as a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award, which goes to the top amateur baseball player in the U.S. He expects to report to the Hudson Valley Renegades in the short-season New York-Penn League in mid-July.
McKay hit .341 with 18 homers and 57 RBIs this year and logged an 11-3 record with a 2.56 ERA as a starting pitcher. He has expressed a desire to be a two-way player in professional ball, and the Rays have indicated they plan to accommodate that wish. But he'll focus primarily on hitting in his first professional season after amassing 108 innings as a starter for Louisville in his junior season.
Louisville coach Dan McDonnell said he thinks McKay is capable of being a two-way threat in pro ball.
"There's something about the great ones -- they make it look easy,'' McDonnell said. "With all the pressure and scrutiny he was under this year, all he did was put up numbers, produce and help his team win. You sit there and say, 'Why would you not utilize his talents in some form or fashion?'
"I think people are being a little more aggressive and thinking outside the box now. Everybody is trying to get an edge, and this could be the edge. This could be the new thing.''
McKay is the latest in a wave of top prospects to pass through the Louisville campus. He joined outfielder Corey Ray, pitchers Kyle Funkhouser and Zack Burdi and catcher Will Smith as the fifth Louisville player since 2015 to go in the first round of the draft. The Cardinals posted a 53-12 record this season and reached the College World Series for the fourth time in program history before bowing out against Texas Christian University.
"There's no question Louisville had a lot to do with Brendan becoming the player he is today,'' said Matt Sosnick, who represents McKay along with fellow agent John Furmaniak. "I have two sons, and if either of them were good enough baseball players, I can't imagine sending them anywhere other than Louisville. All their players seem to get much better while they're in school, and they stay healthy and graduate. It's obvious that Coach Mac prioritizes these three things above everything else.''