Jays’ McKinney will try to keep proving himself vs. Marlins
MIAMI — Talented former first-round pick Billy McKinney, the Toronto Blue Jays’ rookie left fielder and leadoff batter, is already playing for his fourth major-league organization even though he is only 24 years old.
On Friday, when the Jays visit the Miami Marlins to start a three-game series, McKinney will carry a .351 batting average with an even more impressive OPS of 1.147. He has played just 12 games this year but already has three homers and four doubles.
McKinney, who is from Texas, was drafted 24th overall straight out of high school by the Oakland A’s in 2013. In 2014, he was part of a blockbuster trade, getting sent to the Chicago Cubs along with shortstop Addison Russell and right-hander Dan Straily.
Ironically, Straily is the pitcher McKinney will face on Friday.
In 2016, the Cubs traded for closer Aroldis Chapman, sending McKinney and three other prospects to the New York Yankees.
McKinney made his major-league debut this year with the Yankees, getting a hit in his first at-bat. But he injured his left shoulder the next day, went to the disabled list and, ultimately, back to the minors.
On July 26, the Yankees traded McKinney to Toronto, and the Blue Jays promoted him to the majors on Aug. 17.
The reason McKinney is important is that the Jays (60-73) are going nowhere this year. They have lost four games in a row and were just swept in three by the team with the worst record in the majors, the Baltimore Orioles.
Toronto has to find players who belong as part of their future, which is where McKinney comes into play.
McKinney — if nothing else — was part of two trades that helped the Cubs acquire Russell and Chapman, who played large roles in Chicago ending its 108-year World Series title drought.
But can McKinney be more than just a trivia question? So far, he is proving some scouting reports wrong.
“Scouts who saw McKinney at (Triple-A) Scranton said he was a low-energy player who looked lost against pitchers with an even average breaking ball,” Baseball America wrote.
On Friday, McKinney will face Straily (5-6, 4.35 ERA), who is coming off a great performance in his most recent start. Straily allowed just three hits and no runs in a win over the Atlanta Braves.
Straily relied mostly on his fastball, which he threw 44 times, and his slider, which he tossed 39 times.
“I had zero changeup, so I had to have those two (other pitches),” Straily said. “I found out early that I didn’t have my changeup. I got three outs on my changeup but that was later in the game. Early on, it was nonexistent.”
The Jays will counter with right-hander Aaron Sanchez (3-5, 4.95 ERA), a 26-year-old Californian who was drafted 34th overall by Toronto in 2010.
Sanchez throws an above-average fastball at 93.7 mph, but he missed time this year with a contusion on his right index finger. In his only start since returning from the disabled list, Sanchez was not sharp, allowing six runs in four innings.
Since there is no designated hitter at a National League park, it will be interesting to see what the Jays do with DH Kendrys Morales, the reigning American League Player of the Week after hitting .481 with eight homers and 13 RBIs. His streak of at least one homer a game ended at seven on Monday, still setting a franchise record.
The major-league record is eight, held by Marlins manager Don Mattingly along with Ken Griffey Jr. and Dale Long.
Mattingly, though, is more worried about his current team as opposed to his old hitting exploits. The Marlins (53-81) have the second-worst record in the National League and are in a similar position as the Jays, trying to find out who is part of their future.
The Marlins have actually played well in their past 10 games, going 5-5 — all against quality opponents.
During that span, they took two of three from the Washington Nationals, split two games with the Yankees, split four games with the first-place Atlanta Braves and scored 13 runs but still lost two straight to the team with the best record in the majors, the Boston Red Sox.