THE RETURN, 14 years ago, of a bona fide two-way major leaguer was so notable that SI's SCORECARD section tracked the progress of 31-year-old outfielder/reliever Brooks Kieschnick. Unfortunately, the final entry of the Kieschnick Watch, in the Oct. 6, 2003 issue, wasn't positive. "I told Kiesch if he drops another ball, I'm calling timeout and I'm going to pull his pants down and spank his bare butt," said Brewers manager Ned Yost.
Kieschnick was a roster-stretching 25th man, as is the Padres'"slasher," catcher/reliever Christian Bethancourt, who at week's end was batting .167 with an ERA of 14.73. Soon, though, the majors could witness the second coming of the hitting/pitching archetype: the Babe.
In addition to Hunter Greene and Japanese star Shohei Ohtani (SI, April 17--24), there's also Louisville junior Brendan "Two-Way" McKay (left), a first baseman batting .398 and a lefty pitcher with a 1.19 ERA. Ohtani might arrive in MLB next year, while Greene and McKay are almost sure to be drafted in June with the first few picks.
Several executives tell SI they consider the surge of star-caliber two-way prospects more a coincidence than a trend. But they agree that increasingly creative front offices will at least consider using the players in multiple roles in the big leagues. The Ohtani plan, under which the Nippon Ham Fighters DH him most of the week and give him a day off before his starts, is one option; the DH/closer is another. There's also the outfielder/reliever—"extremely useful, because you could have him come in and out when desired," an exec says.
What's unlikely is that a club would let a player combine a full-time defensive position with a starter's innings. "Can't envision an arm holding up to a dual workload," says one assistant GM. Still, any one of these prospects could grow into a singular weapon. Says one exec, "I'd never say never."