Blue Jays: Why the fascination with Billy McKinney?
Is Billy McKinney ready for a big league role? I’m not sure that he is, and yet the Blue Jays have given him plenty of opportunities to stick in Toronto.
As we’ve already seen in the early going of the 2019 season, the Blue Jays are going to do a lot of player evaluation this year, and plenty of it will happen at the big league level.
It’s no surprise when it comes to someone like Elvis Luciano, who the Blue Jays are trying to use in order to avoid having to return him to the Kansas City Royals due to Rule 5 draft rules. It also makes sense for them to give a guy like Socrates Brito an audition after picking him up from the Padres, even if we may have seen enough to make a judgement already.
One guy that’s also auditioning in the outfield right now is Billy McKinney, or at least it feels he should be in the audition stage at least. He was acquired from the Yankees along with Brandon Drury in exchange for J.A. Happ last year, and impressed in a small sample size down the stretch. So much so, I would argue that he seemed to have earned a spot on the 25 man roster based on what the club saw from him last fall, more so than anything he’s done this year.
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So far he’s slashing just .171/.277/.220 in 41 at-bats, and he didn’t exactly set the world on fire during spring training either. He was much better then, slashing .260/.383/.460 in 50 at-bats, and perhaps it was the on-base percentage that caught the eye of Charlie Montoyo and the Blue Jays’ brass. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to carry it over, and it makes a lot more sense when you look deeper into his numbers.
The thing is, McKinney really didn’t have that successful of a track record in the minor leagues, so I’m not sure why the Blue Jays seem so hell-bent on him being a part of their big league club right now. In 2018, he hit just .226/.299/495 in 56 games with the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate, and then .203/.292/.453 in 20 games with the Blue Jays. He did hit .306 in a 55 game Triple-A stint in 2017, but that’s probably been the best of his career so far, other than August of last year.
Even when you break down McKinney’s emergence last year, the split aren’t pretty once the calendar flipped to September. He started out with a line of .395/.478/.763 with five doubles, three home runs and 10 RBI in his first 12 games and 38 at-bats. He came crashing back to earth in 24 September games, slashing just .182/.232/.325 in 82 plate appearances.
I realize he’s a left-handed bat in a righty dominated lineup, and he’s got the type of skillset that could theoretically work at the top of the lineup. I’m not saying that he can’t produce at the big league level someday, but right now I’m starting to think that the best thing for his development might be a confidence-boosting stint in Buffalo.
McKinney does have minor league options available, so if he can’t get things going at the plate then the Blue Jays will eventually have no choice but to send him down. However, the more I look at his track record, the more curious I am as to why anyone expected him to be totally ready for the challenges he’s facing on a day to day basis. Other than a two-week stretch last summer and a solid 2017 season in Triple-A, it’s not like his resume screams for a guaranteed roster spot.
With Anthony Alford tearing it up in Triple-A so far, and the Blue Jays being seemingly committed to giving Brito an extended look, it might be time to start seriously considering sending McKinney back to Triple-A. With all due respect to the 24 year old, my guess is he would have been demoted by now if Dalton Pompey were healthy. Hopefully he can make the best of the Blue Jays’ faith in him.