There are few certainties with the baseball Draft, but here’s one: Dave Winfield is the best two-way prospect since the event began in 1965. And he’ll be hard to top.
The Padres made Winfield the No. 4 overall pick in the 1973 Draft as an outfielder, signed him to a big league contract that included a $65,000 bonus and brought him straight to San Diego. He never played a day in the Minors during a Hall of Fame career that included 12 All-Star Game appearances, seven Gold Gloves and a World Series championship with the 1992 Blue Jays.
And yet at the time, many teams thought Winfield showed more promise as a pitcher. He didn’t even get the chance to hit in his first three college seasons at Minnesota because legendary Golden Gophers coach Dick Siebert considered his right arm too valuable to risk. Radar guns weren’t prevalent at the time, but those who saw Winfield pitch estimate that he threw in the mid-90s.
“There’s no limit,” Padres director of player personnel Bob Fontaine Sr. said after signing Winfield. “He can become as great as he wants to be. Physically, there’s nothing he can’t do in this game.”
Winfield got the chance to hit regularly in the summer of 1972, and only then because the semipro Alaska Goldpanners lost one of their outfielders to pro ball. He hit 15 homers, led the Goldpanners to the National Baseball Congress World Series title and afterward persuaded Siebert to let him pull double duty.
He never pitched in pro ball, so the last time Winfield took the mound was at the 1973 College World Series, where he was named Most Outstanding Player. He went 7-for-15 (.467) with a homer in four games, struck out 14 in a 1-0 shutout of Oklahoma in the CWS opener and fanned 15 in the semifinals against Southern California. He took a 7-0 lead into the ninth before tiring, and the Trojans rallied against Minnesota’s bullpen for an improbable 8-7 victory en route to the fourth of their record five consecutive national championships.
Winfield’s athletic excellence extended beyond the diamond as well. He was a standout rebounder on Minnesota’s 1971-72 Big Ten Conference basketball championship club and got drafted by both the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks and ABA’s Utah Stars. The NFL’s Minnesota Vikings also drafted him even though he didn’t play football in college.
It has taken 44 years, but baseball has another two-way star who could go in the top five as both a hitter and a pitcher. Louisville first baseman/left-hander Brendan McKay isn’t in the same class as Winfield athletically, but he could go No. 1 overall to the Twins and almost certainly won’t get past No. 4 to the Rays. Yet there’s no consensus as to whether he’s better as a hitter or a pitcher.
Teams who like McKay more on the mound see him as a potential No. 2 starter who won’t need much time before he’s Major League-ready. Clubs who prefer him as a bat think he combines arguably the best pure hitting ability in the Draft with 20-homer power. He won the John Olerud Award as college baseball’s top two-way player in each of his first two seasons and should repeat in his third because he’s putting up better numbers than ever — he’s batting .363/.481/.705 with 17 homers and sports a 9-3, 2.37 record with 124 strikeouts in 91 innings.
While Winfield and McKay stand out as the best two-way prospects of the Draft era, there have been plenty of notable dual performers. Here are 10 more, listed in reverse chronological order. We’re focusing on players who were possible first-round picks in both roles over those who may have been more dominant statistically (so sorry, Brooks Kieschnick).
Hunter Greene, RHP/SS (2017).MLB Pipeline’s top-rated Draft prospect is a candiadte to go No. 1 overall and a lock to be drafted as a pitcher capable of reaching 102 mph. Greene also would be a mid-first-rounder as a power hitter who fits the third-base profile very well.
Aaron Hicks, OF/RHP (2008). His five-tool potential got the California high schooler selected 14th overall by the Twins, though he never has hit as hoped in the big leagues. Hicks also could have gone in the same range as a pitcher with a 92-97 mph fastball and a nasty curveball. Hicks also has the hardest outfield throw ever tracked by Statcast™ (105.5 mph), which further speaks to his impressive arm strength.
Nick Markakis, OF/LHP (2003). Baseball America’s Junior College Player of the Year in both 2002 and 2003 while at Young Harris (Ga.) JC, he led national juco players in wins (12), strikeouts (160) and RBIs (92) in the latter season. The Reds took Markakis in the 23rd round as a left-hander in 2002 and offered him $1.5 million as a draft-and-follow the next spring, but he turned that down and signed for $1.85 million as an outfielder after the Orioles selected him seventh overall.
Adam Loewen, LHP/OF (2002). The Orioles also landed Loewen in 2003, paying him $3.2 million as a draft-and-follow after popping him at No. 4 overall the year before out of a Canadian high school. Teams clearly preferred him as a pitcher, but he also could have been a first-rounder as a right fielder with big left-handed power and a strong arm. After injuries stalled his career on the mound in 2008, he switched to the outfield and made it back to the Majors in 2011, then went back to pitching in 2014 and resurfaced in the big leagues a year later.
John Van Benschoten, RHP/OF (2001). After leading NCAA Division I with 31 homers and flashing five tools at Kent State, he was a possible top-10 choice as an outfielder. Though he hit 93 mph as a college reliever, teams didn’t hold him in the same regard on the mound — except for the Pirates, who paid him $2.4 million as the eighth overall choice and made him a full-time pitcher after letting him play both ways in his pro debut. He had an ugly 2-3, 9.20 record in the Majors, though he did homer in his second at-bat.
Josh Hamilton, OF/LHP (1999). The No. 1 overall pick by the Devil Rays and recipient of a $3.96 million bonus, the North Carolina prepster clearly was more talented as a five-tool outfielder with massive left-handed power. Hamilton could have gone later in the first round as an athletic lefty with a fastball that could hit 95 mph.
Rick Ankiel, LHP/OF (1997). Arguably the best high school pitcher in the 1997 Draft, he had a $5 million asking price that dropped him to the second round, where the Cardinals paid him a then-record $2.5 million. Like Loewen, Ankiel was a slam dunk as a pitcher but also had the offensive upside to go in the first round, which helped him make it back to the big leagues as an outfielder once control issues ruined him on the mound.
Frankie Rodriguez, RHP/SS (1990). The Red Sox’ top pick (second round), he turned down a $145,000 offer to attend Howard (Texas) JC. He led the Hawks to the National Junior College World Series title in 1991, winning MVP honors at the tournament and topping all juco players in homers (26) and strikeouts (139). After getting a $420,000 bonus (the fourth-highest in Draft history to that point) as a draft-and-follow, he asked to begin his career at shortstop before switching to pitching in 1992.
John Olerud, 1B/LHP (1989). In 1988, the Washington State star became the first (and still only) college player to win 15 games and hit 20 homers in a season. After a brain aneurysm derailed his encore in 1989, Olerud told teams he wouldn’t sign. The Blue Jays nevertheless took a third-round gamble on one of the best college hitters ever and landed him for a then-record $575,000 bonus as part of an $800,000 big league contract. He wasn’t overpowering on the mound, but he was a savvy left-hander — and he’s probably the best comparison for McKay.
Ken Brett, LHP/OF (1966). Hall of Famer George Brett once said of his older brother, “A lot of people said he was the best hitter in the family, and maybe he was.” While other teams coveted Ken as a center fielder, the Red Sox took him fourth overall as left-hander and made him the youngest pitcher (age 19) ever to appear in the World Series in 1967. An All-Star pitcher in 1974, he also hit .262/.291/.406 in the Majors and homered in four straight starts in 1973.
Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.