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A’s sign Billy McKinney to minor league contract

Outfielder returns to team that made him 1st-round draft pick in 2013

Los Angeles Dodgers v San Diego Padres Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

We’re puttin’ the farm back together!

The Oakland A’s signed outfielder Billy McKinney to a minor league contract with a non-roster invitation to spring training, the team announced Wednesday evening.

This is McKinney’s second tour in the A’s organization, nearly eight years after the last time he was here. His signing last night marked the second time Wednesday that Oakland brought back one of their former prospects, after also claiming infielder Sheldon Neuse off waivers that morning.

The A’s originally drafted McKinney in 2013, in the 1st round out of high school. However, the next summer he was traded to the Cubs in a midseason win-now swap for pitcher Jeff Samardzija, cutting short his journey in Oakland’s farm.

Two years later he was traded again, to the Yankees in a similar exchange for pitcher Aroldis Chapman. By that point he’d worked his way into national Top 100 prospect status, and he finally made his MLB debut for New York in 2018. However, just then he was traded in July again, to the Blue Jays for pitcher J.A. Happ.

The lefty has enjoyed some extended chunks of MLB playing time since then, but he’s yet to stick for a full productive season. His rookie year showed promise (112 wRC+), but 84 games in 2019 didn’t amount to much, nor did 116 games last summer. His career numbers are subpar in 711 plate appearances.

  • McKinney, MLB career: .215/.286/.404, 84 wRC+, 27 HR, 8.7% BB, 26.0% Ks

Last year he set a career-high with 300 plate appearances, but he did so while bouncing between three different teams in the Brewers, Mets, and Dodgers. He finished the season around replacement-level, thanks to strong defensive metrics in both corner outfield positions that offset his below-average offensive stats, and he got an at-bat in the NLDS for Los Angeles but struck out.

  • McKinney, 2021 MLB: .192/.280/.358, 73 wRC+, 9 HR, 10.7% BB, 26.3% Ks

Now age 27, he comes back to where it all started. He’s still young enough to be entering his prime, and he pretty much had to sit out the truncated pandemic 2020 campaign when he would otherwise have been getting at-bats in Triple-A, so he joins the list as another interesting lotto ticket for the rebuilding A’s this spring. It’s a free spin that doesn’t cost a roster spot unless it works.

State of the Outfield

Who will McKinney be competing against? With time still remaining for further changes, Oakland’s outfield currently features a lot of candidates but few firm answers.

The biggest name, Ramon Laureano, will miss the first month to an ongoing PED suspension, and he could yet be traded anyway. New acquisition Cristian Pache could be a front-runner for CF, and notable holdovers from last year include Seth Brown, Chad Pinder, and Stephen Piscotty, though Brown and Pinder might be needed in the infield and Piscotty must reprove his health.

Other options include prospects Luis Barrera and Skye Bolt, who both appeared in the majors last year, and also prospect Cody Thomas who is on the 40-man roster but currently injured. Joining McKinney as non-roster invitees are prospects Buddy Reed and Mickey McDonald, and fellow free agent signing Dalton Kelly, who is also in the mix at first base.

That’s a lot of names! Now we can add another to the group in McKinney, nine years after celebrating him as our 1st-round pick.