McKinney Finds Groove Early

In a draft class short on hitters, it shouldn’t take much for players to move up boards with good springs. Outfielder Billy McKinney topped off a strong summer by ranking 38th on the High School Top 100 in November. When the Draft Top 50 came out a few weeks ago, McKinney had squeezed his way onto the list—at No. 49. There are still several weeks to go until the 2013 draft, but McKinney may not be done climbing.

“In scrimmages I came out and the first guy I saw, I think he was throwing 93 (mph), and I hit a triple down the right field line,” McKinney said. “So I just started out hot. I felt like I was flicking my hands better and getting them out front and swinging it well.”

McKinney is in a groove right now as his Plano (Texas) West High squad is 7-5 after three weeks of tournaments and one district game. Scouts won’t read into stats too much, but in 12 games McKinney is hitting .484 (15-for-31) with nine RBIs and 10 runs scored.

Texas high schools start the spring with a tournament season, which typically consists of playing in a different tournament each week for three weeks. It’s quite a gauntlet for teams to run through so early, but it helps find the answers for roles that are still in question as well as prepare for the grind of a postseason. Plano West had some things to figure out with its pitching staff and the at-bats have helped McKinney find a rhythm.

“As a hitter, I absolutely love it because it just gets my eye ready to play,” he said. “It was a big help for our pitching because we weren’t really sure what we had on the mound. All of our pitchers got three starts and we got to see what we had and who was going to be our No. 2 and No. 3.”

McKinney has been seeing a lot of offspeed stuff as not only a dangerous bat, but also a veteran hitter in a young lineup. He has his coaches continuously throw him offspeed pitches in practice to help him work on keeping his weight back and so far it seems to be paying off. He still has a couple months of the season in front of him, but McKinney’s top highlight may have already happened. In a game against Centennial High (Burleson, Texas) on March 2—unfortunately without righthander Casey Shane on the mound—McKinney was standing in center field, sitting on a 3-for-3 night with a single, double and triple, when it dawned on him.

“I was in center field and I think ‘Wow, I’m a home run away from the cycle.’ And I was up second that inning. I saw a fastball on the second pitch and hit it out of the yard.”

He finished that night 5-for-5 with four RBIs and four runs and seemingly sparked a hitting streak. Including that game, McKinney has 12 hits in his last 14 at-bats.

“He can hit,” one scout said. “He’s a tad aggressive, but it all works and he’s short and quick.”

McKinney has a solid frame at 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, and he has good rhythm, balance and timing at the plate. He has a natural feel for hitting and projects to have plus power down the road. He plays center field now and likely would be able to handle it in college as a solid-average runner, but he’ll likely shift to a corner in pro ball where his bat will play.

A Texas Christian recruit, McKinney plays in the summer with the D-BAT Mustangs and made a trip to one of the most baseball-crazed towns in the country last summer. A regular in the Connie Mack World Series, the Mustangs returned to Farmington, N.M., where thousands of residents show up for a parade and the opening night.

“It’s phenomenal,” McKinney said. “You go there and they treat you right. They have 10,000 (fans) the first night at the game. It’s unbelievable how many people are there. The whole city gets around it.”

D-BAT lost to another travel ball power, the Midland Redskins, late in the tournament and was eliminated by the Southern California Renegades, who turned around and beat Midland for the title. Playing in the Connie Mack World Series caused McKinney to miss out on the Area Code Games, but he had promised his team he’d stay with them and had a whirlwind of a month anyway between the trip to Farmington and both All-America games.

“All of August, I just had a blast,” McKinney said. “I went down to Famington and had a host family there. It was great competition. Going to the All-America Games, that is something I’ll always remember.”

McKinney will be avoided by opposing pitchers all spring, not just because of his hitting skills, but also his experience. As a freshman, he was hitting third in front of slugger Ryan Ford, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound first baseman that is now at Florida Gulf Coast. Teams were pitching around Ford so Plano West’s coach flipped him with McKinney. The Wolves lost in the 5-A state semifinals that year.

If he stays on track throughout the season, it’ll be hard to pass on McKinney’s bat in the early rounds of the draft.