Name: Billy McKinney
How Acquired: Trade with Oakland on July 5, 2014, along with SS Addison Russell, RHP Dan Straily and cash for RHP Jeff Samardzija and RHP Jason Hammel
Status: Rule 5 eligible after 2017 season
You would think if you fouled a ball off your knee cap and broke it, you might need help off the field. If your Billy McKinney, you stay in the game, lift a sacrifice fly to left and leave under your own power. That’s how McKinney’s season ended last year in Tennessee after the mishap Aug. 13 in Chattanooga.
The left-handed hitting outfielder was part of the trade that brought Addison Russell to the Cubs and sent Jeff Samardzija to Oakland. Considered one of the top high school bats in the 2013 draft, the Texas prep from Plano West was the A’s first-round pick and the 24th player selected. Two weeks after agreeing to a $1.8 million bonus, the A’s had their top pick in uniform and on the diamond in the Arizona Rookie League. Making his debut June 20 against the Giants, McKinney went 3-for-6 with a double and a RBI. He slugged his first pro homer July 30 against the D-backs and hit .320/.383/.414 with 2 HR, 20 RBI, 7 SB in 206 plate appearances. McKinney finished up 2013 in the New York-Penn League with Vermont, batting .353/.405/.559 in nine games with 6 RBI.
After an impressive spring training that included time in big league camp, the A’s promoted McKinney to the High A California League for his first full season. One of the younger players in the league, McKinney hit .241/.330/.400 in 75 games but smacked 10 homers, including a pair in his second game. McKinney played his final game in the A’s organization on July 3 against Lancaster and learned he was traded to the Cubs the next day. In his Cubs debut for Daytona on July 7, McKinney went 1-for-3 against Lakeland (Tigers) and appeared in 51 games for the D-Cubs. While he only hit one long ball in the FSL, he did bat .301/.390/.432 and was a key offensive piece in the D-Cubs second-half title. In the post-season, McKinney’s first, he went 6-for-21 (.286) with four runs, a double, and a RBI.
In his first spring training with the Cubs, the Texas native appeared in eight games for Chicago, hitting a homer and sporting a .375/.500/.750 slash. McKinney wasn’t happy to a return to High A and took it out on baseballs in Myrtle Beach. After a 2-for-13 start, McKinney went on an eight-game hitting streak and collected 13 multi-hit games while compiling a slash of .340/.432/.544, all tops in the league. He smacked four homers, drove in 25 runs, walked 17 times and earned a Carolina League Player of the Week honors before leaving town after 29 games. In his AA debut on May 14, McKinney roped a pair of doubles in four at-bats and knocked in a run in a 8-1 win over Montgomery. He never really struggled in AA, backing up a 1-for-20 stretch in seven games by going 13-20 over the next seven games. Before the injury, he hit in 15 of final 16 games, batting .328/.387/.478 with 13 RBI during the stretch. In 77 AA games he batted .285 with a OPS of .766, 3 HR, 39 RBI.
Tools and 2016 Outlook
An advanced approach at the plate and the ability to use the whole field are two qualities you usually don’t find in a 21-year-old. While McKinney’s power numbers dropped in ’15, Cubs officials continue to believe he will develop more power as he gets older. McKinney will need to improve his numbers against left-handed pitching as he hit .212/.296/.247 in 99 plate appearances while hitting .325/.393/.514 against righties. After spending his first two pro seasons seeing time in center, the Cubs used McKinney as a corner outfielder in ’15, playing 73 games in right and 16 in left. He needs to continue to improve his defense and the accuracy of a strong arm. McKinney uses his baseball instincts on the bases to turn average speed into an above average base runner. Look for McKinney to start the season back in Tennessee but the Cubs have already said they will take it slow as he recovers from the hairline fracture. Of all the Cubs prospects, I feel no one is more under-rated than McKinney. He’s a ball player and while his current future with the Cubs looks like a platoon outfielder, he has the skill set to be an everyday big leaguer.