Outfield prospect Billy McKinney must be used to playing second fiddle at this point. In 2014, he was considered to be an afterthought in the deal that sent him, Addison Russell, and starting pitcher Dan Straily to the Cubs in exchange for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. In 2016, another shortstop prospect overshadowed him in a trade, as Gleyber Torres was the headliner in the Aroldis Chapman trade. After being a Top 100 MiLB prospect in the past, McKinney isn’t even listed in the Yankees’ top 30 on MLB.com.
This spring, he received an invite to big league spring training, but only after Tyler Austin got hurt. Almost as if by fate, he has hit two home runs this spring, both of which did not receive calls from the YES Network announcers. During both home runs, Meredith Marakovits was in the middle of an interview, taking some of the spotlight away from McKinney’s home runs:
Billy McKinney hit his second homer of the spring and is currently hitting .500: pic.twitter.com/koQLQwwf52— Max Wildstein (@MaxWildstein) March 3, 2017
Nonetheless, McKinney is off to a hot start, making the most of his opportunity in major league camp. Whether or not he can sustain it is a different story. To get an understanding of his rapid decline, a little extra context is needed. In 2015, McKinney spent most of the season with the Cubs’ Double-A affiliate, with a .285/.346/.420 slash line in 77 games. He had a strikeout rate of just 15.3% in Double-A, in addition to 26 doubles.
A sweet lefty swing, the ability to make contact, and a high number of doubles made him a prime candidate to add power later in his career. His case was helped by the fact that he had not turned 21 yet. Then, just five days before his 21st birthday, it was announced that he would need knee surgery after suffering a hairline fracture.
The rust was still evident when he returned for the 2016 season. Both his batting average and power numbers plummeted, although he was able to draw more walks. After being traded to the Yankees, he was able to regain some of his power, with 11 of his 28 extra base hits in 2016 coming in the 35 games he played at Double-A Trenton.
Before he got hurt, McKinney was doing everything teams want to see in a minor league level. He was young, playing at an advanced level, making consistent contact, and driving the ball into the gap. His hot start in spring training might be an indication that he is back at full strength and is ready to make his presence felt in the Yankees’ farm system. Assuming he starts the season back at Double-A, Gleyber Torres might not be the only hitter raising eyebrows in Trenton this spring.
Data is courtesy of FanGraphs.