When the Yankees traded half a season of Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs in 2016, the Cubs knew they were getting the best closer in the game. The Yankees knew it too, and they also knew that there were several other teams looking to shore up their bullpens. They asked a ransom for Chapman and they got it.
The Cubs sent arguably their top prospect in Gleyber Torres, along with former first-round draft pick Billy McKinney, Rashad Crawford, and Adam Warren along to the Yanks. The focus at the time was on Torres, and it still is, but the lesser known McKinney is getting an extended look this spring.
When I told my Great Uncle Horace of the trade he said, “McKinley? Wasn’t he assassinated?” Yes, yes he was unc.
Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 45 | Run: 50 | Arm: 45 | Field: 50 | Overall: 45
McKinney has always been a bat-first prospect, although his high baseball IQ has some thinking he will play an average to above average outfield. Indeed he has played all three outfield positions in the minors, but he profiles more in either corner.
Back when the deal was done, McKinney was a buy-low candidate, as his ISO in 2016 over 88 Double-A games for the Cubs was a paltry .070. Here’s what Chris Mitchell at Fangraphs had to say:
“McKinney had a strong 2015 campaign as a 20-year-old between High-A and Double-A but has been very underwhelming so far this season. Though he’s spent more than a full season at Double-A, he’s yet to master the level, and has actually performed notably worse this year relative to last year.”
Oh, ye of little faith! After the trade, McKinney promptly started hitting for extra bases and had a .141 ISO the rest of 2016. In 2017 he flashed even more power, clubbing 16 home runs across Double-A and Triple-A, good for a .206 ISO.
While there still are some questions regarding his swing plane, it’s his plate discipline and contact skills that have always been intriguing. With a 7.8 BB% and 18.8 K% in 2017, McKinney has shown tremendous discipline and contact skills, suggesting he’s ready for the next level, however, as he transitioned from Double-A to Triple-A his disciplined seemed to wane as he only drew nine walks in over 226 PA in Scranton. At the same time, however, his power spiked.
The increase in power is intriguing, especially since McKinney swings from the left-hand side of the plate. Someone once told me that lefties tend to fair well in Yankee Stadium. Even so, McKinney could probably stand to season a bit more in Triple-A, as he is just 23 years old.
Still, the Yankees will have a tough decision to make at the start of the season as McKinney’s bat is close to major league ready and Jacoby Ellsbury is slated to start the season on the DL.
UPDATE: McKinney has been optioned to AAA to start the season.