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Blue Jays: Explaining Billy McKinney over Anthony Alford on Opening Day

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 26: Billy McKinney #28 of the Toronto Blue Jays makes a running catch in the fifth inning during MLB game action against the Houston Astros at Rogers Centre on September 26, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 26: Billy McKinney #28 of the Toronto Blue Jays makes a running catch in the fifth inning during MLB game action against the Houston Astros at Rogers Centre on September 26, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /
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On Tuesday we learned that Anthony Alford would be sent down to minor league camp, and Billy McKinney has been informed he’ll make the team. Why is that?

For anyone who has been paying close attention to the Blue Jays during Grapefruit League games this Spring, you would have noticed that two of the best players in camp have already been sent back to work out with the minor leaguers in advance of the season.

We witnessed some pretty impressive displays from the youngsters, perhaps lead by #2 prospect Bo Bichette, and arguably the top ranked outfielder prospect, Anthony Alford. The two of them will almost assuredly start their 2019 campaign in Triple-A with Buffalo, despite the fact that each of them have raked at the plate so far, and arguably should be on the team right now.

With Bichette there are a few reasons for his being sent back down. The Blue Jays have a plethora of middle infielders already, and they would have to find room for him on the 40 man roster, which could prove to be a challenge right now. The front office has also repeatedly stated that they’d like him to get the experience of playing in Triple-A, as he spent all of last season in Double-A with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.

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When it comes to Anthony Alford, the situation is a little different. Alford has previously made his MLB debut, and he’s already on the 40 man roster. For that reason there was always an outside shot that the Blue Jays would bring him north to start the year, but I imagine that regular playing time is the greater priority at the moment. Their outfield is already more or less set with Kevin Pillar in centre, Randal Grichuk in right, and some combination of Teoscar Hernandez and Billy McKinney in left field.

The first three names entered camp with their spot on the team more or less assured, as long as a trade didn’t take place. For Billy McKinney, many of us assumed that he would have to fight for his role on the team as well, but it almost feels like his opening the season in Toronto was a foregone conclusion. While I’m a fan of the player and I like the upside he displayed last year, I have to ask: Why did he get a spot over Alford?

I think there are three simple answers for that question, and I already mentioned the playing time thing above. Alford should probably play in centre field on a regular basis, and as long as Pillar is on the Blue Jays roster it’s going to be tough to find him regular playing time. Even if they moved him to a corner, they would still need to balance getting Grichuk and Hernandez in the lineup as well, and that wouldn’t be an easy task if they wanted Alford playing the vast majority of the time.

Secondly, the Blue Jays really don’t have a lot of left-handed hitters, and McKinney helps balance things out a bit, especially in the outfield. The rest of the outfielders are all right-handed, and other than a bunch of switch-hitters like Justin Smoak, Kendrys Morales, Freddy Galvis, and the possible inclusions of Dalton Pompey and Richard Urena (if one or both make the team), there aren’t any lefty swingers on the bench.

Lastly, it seems like the Blue Jays are intent on giving McKinney a shot in their lead off spot, something that Alford may eventually have the skill set to try as well, but right now probably would be better suited to hit lower in the lineup. Personally, I’m not sold on McKinney as a leadoff hitter, or a big league hitter at all for that matter, but I understand the need to find someone to fill that role as it’s been a question we’ve discussed around this team for years now.

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We often put too much stock in an Opening Day roster in the grand scheme of things, and if I were going to put my money on either Alford or McKinney having a greater MLB impact this year, it would be on the former. For the time being though, Alford will have to bide his time in Triple-A, and hopefully he’ll be able to stay healthy, collect every day at bats, and carry the momentum he showed during Grapefruit League play into the early part of the season. If he can do that, it won’t be long until we see him with the Blue Jays.

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