Many observers, both inside and outside the Yankees organization, are anxious to see what kind of 2017 season outfielder Billy McKinney puts together.
A native of Plano, Texas, who was Oakland’s first-round pick in the 2013 draft, signed by Athletics scout Armann Brown, came to the Yankees last July 25 with heralded shortstop Gleyber Torres, outfielder Rashad Crawford and right-hander Adam Warren in the Aroldis Chapman trade.
He was listed as the Cubs’ No. 7 prospect by Baseball America prior to last season, and, by some evaluators, placed No. 5 among Yankees prospects when he was acquired late last summer. He did not perform at such a level at Double-A Trenton last season, batting just .234 (30-for-128) in 35 games and an OPS of .685. To his credit, he hit a lot of balls on the screws which were caught, and only struck out 28 times.
He enters 2017 not listed anywhere near the Yankees’ Top 30.
McKinney goes up to swing from the left side, walking just 12 times in 142 Trenton plate appearances. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound outfielder will likely return to the Thunder to start 2017. If he performs well, he could earn a promotion to Triple-A Scranton and be protected from the next Rule 5 Draft. If not, who knows?
“It’s an honor to be in the Yankees system,” said McKinney. “I will do my best to show them what I can do.”
What’s ironic about McKinney’s career so far is he has been “the other guy” in a trade for a top shortstop prospect twice in three years, coming from Oakland to the Cubs with Addison Russell for right-hander Jeff Samardzija in 2014.
“It’s funny how things work out,” he said. “But you play where you are.”
To be fair, part of McKinney’s issue in 2016 – he batted .246 (108-for-426) in 123 games between the Tennessee Smokies and Thunder – was a situation with his right knee. It was still gimpy from a broken kneecap suffered in August 2015. The injury, which came as the result of a foul ball, took away a lot of his balance, affected his swing and short-circuited bis power last season.
With Tyler Austin suffering a broken foot, also the result of a foul ball, McKinney will get a longer look in Spring Training, having been given an invite as a non-roster player, after Austin’s injury, by the Yankees.
The Yankees are working to boost his strength and enhance his balance in the knee that has been bothersome. McKinney has a bit of an arm bar in his swing, but makes up for hit with terrific hand-eye coordination and excellent recognition of pitches. He has played center, but his arm fits well in left field, as do those of Clint Frazier and Blake Rutherford.
Also, being traded twice in three years – after being drafted in the first round – would make any player both confirm baseball is a business and wonder what the story is besides inclusion in swaps for a pair of shortstops who could easily dominate at their position for the next decade.
McKinney needs to stay healthy, and take advantage of his longer-than-expected look with the big club in Spring Training. The recipe for success is there, but he needs to put together all the ingredients.