Left-handed reliever Kyle McGrath is exactly the type of player that teams don’t expect to see in the big leagues. Drafted in the 36th round of the 2014 MLB Draft, McGrath has always been a relief-only prospect, making his climb to the majors all the more difficult. In his first taste of professional baseball in 2014, the 22-year-old McGrath was dominant in rookie ball, posting a 0.79 ERA in 22 and two-thirds innings. McGrath posted a strikeout rate just over 27 percent with a walk rate of 7.4 percent. McGrath wasn’t nearly as good when looking at peripheral numbers, as evidenced by his 3.01 FIP, but it was a successful debut for the late-round draft pick.
Given that he was a left-hander, and that he was a relief-only prospect out of college, McGrath was destined to be a quick mover through the Padres’ system if everything clicked right. After his solid rookie league debut, McGrath kicked off the 2015 season in Low-A, throwing 68 and two-thirds innings with a 1.70 ERA before a late-season promotion to Double-A. McGrath had everything clicking in Low-A, raising his strikeout rate to nearly 30 percent while cutting his walk rate all the way down to three percent. McGrath gave up more hits overall at the new level, but his killer strikeout to walk ratio helped him dominate lower level hitters. None of this was too eye-popping, as McGrath was then a 23-year-old facing much younger hitters.
McGrath started the next season off in High-A, as Low-A hitters were clearly overmatched against the lefty. McGrath only ended up throwing 17 and a third innings with the Lake Elsinore Storm, as he was just too good for that level. Not only did McGrath strike out 26 in those innings, but he also walked just one and did not give up a single earned run. With such a strong run of dominance to kick off the season, McGrath was quickly promoted to Double-A. Although not quite as dominant, McGrath still posted a 1.29 ERA in 48 and two-thirds innings. McGrath saw a slight decline in his K-rate, but he was still able to strike out 50 batters to just eight walks in that span. With two stellar performances under his belt, McGrath got a taste of Triple-A to wrap up the season, appearing in one game for the El Paso Chihuahuas. With so much success in tow, it was clear that McGrath was going to be a quick riser after all.
Despite his great success at Double-A in 2016, McGrath found himself back in his old stomping grounds in San Antonio to kick off the 2017 season. Although not nearly as dominant as he was in 2016, McGrath still posted a 2.63 ERA in 23 and two-thirds innings. He also maintained a strong K-BB rate, with 27 strikeouts to just four walks. After showing he was more than good enough for another promotion, McGrath skipped Triple-A entirely, earning himself the big league call on July 27. McGrath spent about a month in the bigs, making five appearances and giving up four earned runs in six and two-thirds innings. McGrath was then demoted back down to Triple-A, where he stayed until the end of the minor league season, earning his way back to the big leagues as a September call-up.
McGrath pitched 12 and a third innings over the last month of the season and gave up only two earned runs in total, with 10 strikeouts and four walks. In total, McGrath threw 19 innings in his rookie year, sporting a 2.84 ERA and 3.79 FIP with a 16:6 K-BB rate. Although the numbers looked solid, McGrath did run into some problems with a high home run rate, which is something that could be an issue for him given his very low ground ball rate (below 30 percent in the big leagues in 2017).
2018 Projection and Long-Term Outlook
Steamer Projection: 30 innings, 21.6% strikeout rate, 8% walk rate, 4.30 ERA, 4.54 FIP, 0.0 fWAR
Going into 2018, there is a lot more bullpen competition in San Diego than there was last year. With the likes of McGrath, Jose Torres, Phil Maton, Brad Hand, Kirby Yates, Carter Capps, and a few other guys returning, and the additions of Kazuhisa Makita, newest addition Tom Wilhelmsen, as well as a few other possibilities, the Padres have no shortage of relief options. However, Kyle McGrath has just as much potential as nearly any other guy in that bullpen.
The biggest thing McGrath has to improve upon is his proneness to give up extra-base hits. He is always going to run a low groundball rate with a high flyball rate, so he is going to have to limit home runs in order to find big league success. McGrath doesn’t have any noticeable platoon splits, which should help his long-term outlook in the Padres’ bullpen. It will be interesting to see if there is room in the Padres’ bullpen for two lefties moving forward, although both Torres and McGrath avoid poor platoon splits, making them more than just LOOGYs. With his deception and solid pitch repertoire, McGrath should be exciting to watch in 2018 and beyond.