Zach McKinstry got his first taste of regular major league playing time in 2021, a season interrupted by an oblique injury and which included an eye-opening solution to a slump.
McKinstry debuted with a cup of coffee in September 2020, the ninth player drafted and signed by the Dodgers in 2016 to reach the majors. That wildly prolific draft class grew to 13 major leaguers in 2021, a year that saw the 33rd-rounder McKinstry make his first opening day roster.
“It’s a lot of fun seeing those guys that were drafted in 2016 make it to the big leagues, making their debut and doing well,” McKinstry said in April. “It’s awesome catching up with them and seeing them do well in the big leagues.”
McKinstry paid immediate dividends, hitting the Dodgers’ first home run of the season (though not their first ball hit over the fence), a go-ahead inside-the-park shot in the eighth inning of the third game of the year.
McKinstry’s first three starts came at three different positions — second base, left field, and right field. He started 18 times in right field during the season, 10 times at second, six times at third base, and five times in left.
A string of playing time for McKinstry was interrupted in late April when he was shelved by an oblique strain. The injured list stint cost him 33 games, one of 20 different Dodgers injured list stints of at least 30 games in 2021.
A brief slump after returning from the injured list was quickly turned around thanks to Dodgers coaches noticing that McKinstry was closing his eyes at the point of contact while swinging the bat.
“That’s a new one for me,” manager Dave Roberts said, laughing. “I actually commend Zach for having the success he had up to this point with having his eyes closed on contact. I guess some things you take for granted.”
Through June 30, McKinstry was hitting .259/.309/.455, a 103 wRC+, proving to be a valuable reserve. But then he cratered.
McKinstry was just 5-for-45 with a .428 OPS in July. As a bat-first utility man with below-average defensive numbers at three of his four positions — right field, second base, and left field; he was average or slightly above in 65 innings at third base — McKinstry’s versatility wasn’t as useful when he wasn’t hitting.
That slump bought McKinstry a ticket to Triple-A Oklahoma City. He didn’t start again for the Dodgers the rest of the season, only playing in two more games in his two major league stints over the final two months. He batted only once, and struck out.
During his time in Triple-A, McKinstry hit .272/.368/.510 with seven home runs, 18 extra-base hits, and a 117 wRC+ in 40 games. McKinstry was active for the National League wild card game, his first postseason roster, though he did not play.
Stats: .215/.263/.405, 77 wRC+, 172 PA, 7 HR, -0.8 bWAR, -0.5 fWAR
Game of the year
In the final game of the Dodgers’ first home series of the season, against the Nationals on April 11, McKinstry drove in all three of the game’s runs. First came a fly-ball sun double RBI in the second inning, then a two-run home run by McKinstry in the seventh.
This was the first Dodgers win during the regular season with Max Scherzer on the mound (he started for Washington on this day). Los Angeles ended the year 13-0 in games started by Scherzer.
McKinstry has 148 days of major league service time. He has one option year remaining, having used options in 2020 and 2021.