It’s not every day that a 33rd-round draft pick shoots through the minor-leagues and becomes a big-leaguer. Well, Zach McKinstry isn’t like every other minor-leaguer.
McKinstry was drafted in the 33rd round of the 2016 MLB Amateur Draft. Although he still had two years of eligibility remaining at Central Michigan, he was ready to get his big-league career started.
“I was already 21, I wanted to start my career when I was younger,” McKinstry said to the media on Saturday. “I wanted to be able to grow through the system and give them more opportunity to see me. Even though I was a 33rd-rounder, I still had opportunities.”
He’s taken full advantage of these opportunities, as he’s shot his way up through the minors. In less than four years, McKinstry worked his way from A-ball Great Lakes all the way up to AAA Oklahoma City.
It wasn’t until 2019 in which McKinstry believed he had a legitimate shot at making the big-leagues. He was named to the AA All-Star Game, which seemed like a long shot to begin the season. “I didn’t really start at the beginning of the year,” he said. “A guy went down with a hamstring issue, and I stepped in and kind of took over that role at second base. I just worked my way into the lineup and played really well. Being in the lineup just about every day really helped my career, giving me that confidence.”
It gave him the confidence for sure, as McKinstry hit .279/.352/.455/.807 in 95 games with Tulsa in 2019. He also found power in his swing, as he hit 12 homers with the Drillers. Prior to that, the most homers he had in a season going back to his Central Michigan days was seven, which he did in 2018 while playing for three different teams.
McKinstry was promoted to Oklahoma City towards the end of the year, and immediately became one of the best hitters for the Dodgers. In 26 games, he hit .382/.421/.753/1.174 with seven homers and 26 RBI. All of a sudden, a guy nobody really had heard of was shooting his way up the rankings and establishing himself as one of the best prospects in the Dodgers’ organization.
It didn’t go unnoticed by the Dodgers, as they added him to their 40-man roster in November of 2019. A few months later during Spring Training was when McKinstry truly would become a household name for Dodgers fans.
This wasn’t the first time he had been at Spring Training with the club. He had eight previous at-bats in the years prior, but 2020 was when he was finally given an opportunity to showcase his talent. And boy, did he ever.
In 27 at-bats this spring, McKinstry hit .407/.448/.778/1.226 with two homers and six RBI. Here’s what manager Dave Roberts said about McKinstry back in February.
“Certain players you have to see play for an extended period of time to really appreciate what they can do. Zach is not going to just wow you when you first see him, but the baseball instincts, understanding how to manage an at-bat, where to be in the right spots, he just doesn’t make mistakes.”
Roberts said it was likely we’d McKinstry in the big-leagues at some point in 2020.
Although he likely wouldn’t have made the Opening Day roster, McKinstry was ready to start the season in Oklahoma City and continue his hot stretch of hitting. Then, the pandemic hit.
He made sure he stayed in baseball shape and stayed ready, not wanting to lose sight of what his No. 1 goal was. “I spent most of [quarantine] in Phoenix and Scottsdale,” he said. “Hit some small whiffle balls and some weighted balls to try and keep my swing going. Once the facilities opened back up I went back to Camelback. [I was] trying to use that momentum from last year and spring training.”
Fast forward a few months, McKinstry is back with the Dodgers at summer camp. With the roster being 30 players to begin the season, there’s a good chance that McKinstry might find himself on the Opening Day roster. While fighting for a roster spot, he has some of the best players in the game of baseball by his side, such as MVP’s Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger.
“I cherish every moment of it,” McKinstry said when asked about being around such talented players. “I’m just trying to learn from those guys. It’s fun competing against them and playing with them. It’s pretty awesome getting to make plays for those guys. It’s like no other organization. They talk to you, try to coach you a little bit. It was really eye opening to see how they go about their business.”
In addition to making a great impression earlier in the year, it seems as if McKinstry is capturing the attention of the pitching staff, too.
“I’ve had a pitcher reach out to me and say he enjoyed throwing against me and having me behind him when he’s throwing,” he said. “He thinks I have a really good future ahead of me. I think I’ve shown some higher up guys that I can compete at the next level.”
If he keeps this up, and there’s no reason to think he can’t, it looks like McKinstry will be the next Dodgers rookie that will look to make an immediate impact with the team.