Billy McKinney just turned 21, yet he seems much older. He hasn’t even been a Cub for two years, but he has been a top-10 prospect in the system since the day he arrived. He was part of a blockbuster trade that pretty much tattooed his name on the minds of Cubs fans. Despite all that, or maybe because of it, he seems anonymous. McKinney hit .287 with a .396 OBP, one home run, and 11 RBI in May…and pretty much went unnoticed.
For the better part of two years, Billy McKinney has always been the one in the shadows, not in the spotlight. First there was Addison Russell in the A’s system, then last year at AA, Dan Vogelbach, Kyle Schwarber, and Willson Contreras taking the spotlight. McKinney hit a solid .285 with 3 HRs and 39 RBI in 77 games after being promoted from Myrtle Beach. The only thing anyone noticed was the lack of home runs and the shattering of his patella (kneecap) on August 13, 2015.
I was surprised to learn about McKinney’s attempt to come back this spring training. After all, six months is a pretty quick recovery for a normal human being. But sure enough, McKinney broke camp with Tennessee and slowly began his way back from the injury.
He was still thought of highly coming into this season, as evidenced by this blurb from FanGraphs:
At the plate, McKinney really shines. He makes a lot of contact and has a consistent, selective approach. His swing path gives him a lot of room for error on off speed pitches, and he creates enough lift to drive a ton of balls in the gaps. There is not much torque in his swing; instead, McKinney settles for squaring balls up and doing more work with his upper body in a smooth, athletic motion. His actions suggest some added strength or an attempt to create more lift might raise his power ceiling quickly, but I’ll settle for likely average power.
MLB Pipeline was just as ebullient:
McKinney has hit everywhere he has gone, the result of his quick left-handed swing, tremendous hand-eye coordination and mature approach. He also draws enough walks to record healthy on-base percentages, though some evaluators question how much over-the-fence power he’ll develop. He has bat speed and makes hard contact easily, so he should produce plenty of doubles with 15 or more homers per season.
After spring training, McKinney began the long road back from an injury to his plant leg. Did I mention that it was his left patella? His performance in April was not promising. He saw a lot of action, but the bat was not up to par, which is pretty much what you’d expect. He hit .206 with 6 RBI, striking out 18 times and drawing only seven walks in 19 games. On the other hand, he was actually out there playing, all the while building up strength in his kneecap.
When May arrived, McKinney had a very nice month…and heard crickets rather than applause. Part of it might be that the Smokies only had an 11-17 record. More might be that teammates Mark Zagunis and Victor Caratini had very outstanding months. And yet more of it might be that McKinney only hit one home run.
Heading into June, McKinney is on a nice run. Over his last ten games he’s hitting .343 with a homer and 5 RBI, while striking out eight times and walking six in 35 at-bats. He will have nights where he has a multi-hit game and then have an oh-fer the next night. That’s not uncommon, but he still needs to build up to better consistency.
I don’t see anything wrong with where he has been this year, what he is doing now, and, hopefully, what he will do in June. The power will come in time as the summer goes on. It’s something to be patient about. Personally, I think his summer is going to be exciting as the leg gets stronger and stronger. All McKinney has ever done as a Cub is hit and I don’t think that is ever going to change.
I just wish he was doing it in the spotlight for all to notice.