Hailing from the same hometown, same high school but different —and rival!— little league teams, Billy McKinney is a friend of mine. It’s been fascinating witnessing a remarkable journey from back home as he’s gone on a world-trotting adventure in just five seasons as a professional baseball player.
McKinney, who just turned 24, was drafted out of high school 24th overall in 2013. In 2014, he was traded along with best friend Addison Russell to the Chicago Cubs for Jeff Samardzija.
In 2016, he was a part of another huge trade. With another top prospect, Gleyber Torres, McKinney was en route to New York to play for the Yankees, who nearly selected him in 2013’s first round.
In 2018, he made his MLB debut on the road in Toronto against the Blue Jays. (Little did we know...)
In his first plate appearance, he roped a single to right field.
Unfortunately, injuries have been a problem for the lefty batter and thrower and he was forced back into minor league rehab work after just two games.
At this past trade deadline, McKinney was traded again, along with Brandon Drury, to the Blue Jays for pitcher J.A. Happ.
After briefly working at Triple-A Buffalo, the rebuilding Blue Jays added him to their growing collection of young players. (Toronto started the season with the oldest MLB roster.)
Since then, the long-awaited opportunity has become a promising reality.
He went 2-for-4 with a pair of RBI in his first game with his new club, batting leadoff. He had another two-hit outing three days later and also belted his first big league home run.
Two and three games later, he added homers two and three.
The next day, he collected his first two career doubles in another two-hit display, and was at it again hours later with another pair of hits in a Sunday contest.
His first nine games with the Blue Jays —and his first time with anything resembling permanent playing time— he hit 11-for-27 with three doubles, three home runs and nine RBI, one for each game played. He also scored six runs, drew five walks and notched an OPS almost reaching 1.4.
Right before his call-up, I chatted with Billy about a variety of things that have all served as, in his words, “just a beginning.”
How did you break the news again to your family that you had been traded?
Similar to the last trade, I called my parents and advised them I might be getting traded after I was removed from the second game of a double header. I understand baseball is a business and the only thing I control is how I play. Although it is sad to say goodbye and leave one organization, I have made a large group of friends throughout the baseball community thanks to the three trades.
What was your reaction to the news? Did you expect to be traded again?
I did not expect it, although based on the past, I was mentally prepared if something happened. I am excited about the opportunity to play for Toronto and have enjoyed the team and playing for the Blue Jays.
What are your thoughts about going from the Yankees to the Blue Jays?
I have enjoyed my time with all of the organizations I have had the honor to be a part of. The Blue Jays are no exception. A great organization and a great team. I definitely feel at home with Toronto based on the warm welcome I have received.
What was your first impression of Buffalo and the Jays organization?
Very impressed with how they go about their business. Very, very professional organization that is stacked with talent in both the majors and minor leagues.
Do teammates ever joke about your unique career path with all the trades?
No one jokes around about being traded. Everyone understand it is part of the business and all teams are just trying to win championships.
Do you keep track of the players you’ve been traded for/with? (like Addison but also Samardzija, Chapman and now Happ).
I am personal friends with Addison, so I definitely track him. Otherwise, no I do not, although I wish them all the best.
I know how important your faith is to you. How helpful has that been for you with all that’s happened already in your young career?
Faith is an important part of my life and I reflect on how lucky I have been so far to be exposed to so many great people in so many great organizations. My baseball base of friends and baseball executives is extensive and I am lucky to have been given that opportunity.
What was first at-bat like when you got your first career hit?
It was an exciting moment in my life for sure, although it was just a beginning. I have more work to be the best I can be as a player.