Billy McKinney has gotten off to a slow start this season but his coaches believe he'll turn it around soon.

TRENTON, NJ -- All great sports films rely on one thing: the underdog. He’s quiet but determined, respectful but competitive, overlooked but talented. He is absolutely capable of breaking through so long as he can emerge from under the radar. The stories are well-known, and perhaps another great one is currently being crafted in Trenton.

The Yankees acquired right fielder Billy McKinney last year as part of the Aroldis Chapman deal with the Chicago Cubs.

McKinney has been known as a reliable hitter since his time with the Cubs and was even considered one of the better prospects in the Yankees organization after his move but has been recently dogged by misfortune. As a result, he has only posted a .143 average so far this season.

“Billy just needs to go get a rabbit’s foot,” Thunder hitting coach Tommy Slater said. “He’s hitting the ball hard. He just hasn’t found any holes — that’s the bottom line. He just needs to find a little luck and have some of those balls start dropping for him.”

Although McKinney has already been struck out 21 times in 22 games, he has shown great potential. He has accumulated eight runs off ten hits, including a bunt during the bottom of the fourth against Harrisburg on May 1 which helped put Trenton on the board. The Thunder racked up all seven of its runs that inning and held off the Senators entirely throughout the game.

“The bunt hit [that] night hopefully helped him get going because we have worked on that and worked on that, and he was able to get it down and get a hit,” said Thunder manager Bobby Mitchell. The following night, Mitchell gave the 22-year-old Texan a “mental break,” omitting him from the lineup with admitted hesitation.

“He really hit the ball well in batting practice [on May 2],” Mitchell said. “I was almost thinking of putting him in the lineup the way he was hitting in BP.”

Knowing his own strength, McKinney too is disheartened by the luck he has been having reaching base but knows that 90-foot path is often much longer.

“I feel really good,” McKinney said. “The ball just hasn’t been dropping for me as much as I’d like. I just have to stick to the process, just keep going out there and playing hard.”

Mitchell recognizes the young outfielder’s desire to hit, to win and to move on to the big league but sees one flaw in his game.

“He is a guy who is a perfectionist, and sometimes the game speeds up on him because he wants to do well so badly,” Mitchell said. “It’s not that he’s swinging at bad pitches, but he is swinging at some pitches that are marginal or early in the count that you may not want to swing at. Sometimes he gets anxious and wants to get it done right away, get a hit right away, and then he doesn’t swing at the pitches he really needs to.”

“I’m trying to not do too much, just play the game,” McKinney responded coolly.

While he has had a slow start to this season, his minor league slash line, .271/.355/.398, puts any doubt to rest. The talented contact hitter ended the 2016 season with a .246 batting average and four home runs in 123 games, helping the team to the playoffs.

“I felt really good at the end of last season,” McKinney recalls. “We were in the playoffs so that was a lot of fun. We were all just working to win the championship. Unfortunately, we didn’t. We were a little short. It was a fun ride though, and I was glad that we were there.”

Even with that shortcoming under his belt and his adversity so far this season, Slater does not doubt McKinney’s work ethic and ability to succeed.

“He’s a great kid, works his tail off,” Slater said. “He’s going to be fine.”

McKinney’s potential is evident in the statistics he garnered during his time with the Cubs’ organization. In 2015, while McKinney played for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, he averaged .340 with an OBP of .432. In 2016 in Tennessee, he had 37 runs and 31 RBIs, clearly showcasing his immense talent.

On July 25, 2016, McKinney was traded along with three others to the Yankees, landing in Trenton.

“When he first came over here, he had a really good knowledge of the strike zone and he still does to a certain extent,” Mitchell said. “[This year,] he has hit some balls hard that would have been out of other parks but not out of this park.”

“He will be playing regularly,” Mitchell added. “Hopefully he’ll help us a lot.”


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