Blue Jays 2019 Top Prospects: #16- Billy McKinney
Coming in at #16 on our Jays Journal Top Prospects countdown is Billy McKinney, a quietly talented outfielder acquired from the Yankees last season.
When the Blue Jays traded J.A. Happ to the New York Yankees last season, it looked like Brandon Drury was going to be the main piece coming back to Toronto. That may still end up being the case, but Billy McKinney was quietly impressive in a short MLB cameo, and could end up factoring into the outfield equation in 2019.
In 36 games and 115 at bats, McKinney ended up slashing .252/.320/.470 with six home runs, 13 RBI, and seven doubles. With a bit of an unclear outfield picture in Toronto this season, he likely has a chance to take a serious run at the left field job, or at least earn some semi-regular at bats in the outfield anyway.
Name: Billy McKinney
Position: OF Age: 24
Height: 6’1” Weight: 205 lbs
Throws: Left Bats: Left
Acquired: From the Yankees in 2018 via trade (Happ). Drafted in the 1st round (24th) of the 2013 amateur draft by Oakland.
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As mentioned above, McKinney was better than expected in his short stint with the Blue Jays, and it remains to be seen if he can keep up that type of production, or if the league will adjust to him once they’ve gather more information on the former first round pick.
Fangraphs has him rated as a 45/50, which is average or just slightly below. While he was solid last year, he’ll need to build on his resume before he’s viewed as something more than what he’d been as a minor leaguer in the Yankees’ system.
For example, he slashed just .226/.299/.495 in Triple-A before he was traded (in 56 games), and just .203/.292/.453 in 20 games in Buffalo. He was solid in 2017 with a .306/.336/.541 in 55 games in Triple-A, but his stint in Toronto was the first time he really showed his potential to hit since the year before.
While Fangraphs doesn’t see the lefty-swinger as more than average for his hit tool, he’s rated slightly above at 55/55 for Game Power, and the same rating for Raw Power.
Last year he ended up swatting six home runs and slugging .470 in those 115 at bats, but I don’t think that’s the type of rate we can expect going forward. It’s possible he could push for 20 home runs in a season if he became a regular starter, but my guess is he’d land somewhere closer to 12-15. Last year he matched his career high of 16 when he combine his totals across all levels, but there could be a little more untapped potential there. That said, I don’t expect him to become the next Jose Bautista in a Blue Jays uniform or anything.
The native of Dallas, Texas runs reasonably well, but I’d stop short of calling him an asset in the speed department. Fangraphs has him at a mark of 50/45, meaning he’s about average when it comes to foot speed. He seems to move well enough to be an adequate defender in left field, but don’t expect him to be a threat on the base paths, as his one stolen base for the Blue Jays was his only swipe of the season at any level.
As I mentioned above, McKinney is an adequate enough runner in the outfield, but he could use some work in some of the other defensive departments.
Fangraphs has him rated as a 45/50 in the Field department, and just 40/40 for the Throw tool. It’s a little concerning that he managed to earn a -0.4 dWAR rating in just 36 games, but he definitely felt like an upgrade over what we witnessed from Teoscar Hernandez last season, so there is that.
Last but not least McKinney’s Future Value rating comes in at 40+, meaning that they don’t see him being much more than a replacement level player. Blue Jays fans (and myself included) probably have higher than reasonable expectations for him this season, but he may have also taken some important steps late last year to harness his potential. He was a former first round pick, after all.
As I’ve already mentioned, McKinney will be in a battle for a roster spot, and for playing time in the outfield this year. With a group that likely includes regular starts for Kevin Pillar in centre and Randal Grichuk in right, McKinney will have to fend off the likes of Hernandez, and possibly others that could challenge for a roster spot, like Dalton Pompey, who is out of minor league options.
That last part may be what works against McKinney to begin the season, as he could start the year in Buffalo and still remain under control for the Blue Jays. If that’s the case it’s likely because of a numbers game, but don’t be surprised if he challenges for a spot on the team from day one. If nothing else, he’s earned a long look this spring after the way he played late last year, and we’re bound to see him in the big leagues at some point, even if it’s not Opening Day.