McKinney making most of unexpected chance

Young outfielder slugging in spring after injuries to Austin, Williams opened spot

McKinney making most of unexpected chance

TAMPA, Fla. -- One of the most impressive Yankees this Spring Training was not even included on the original roster for big league camp. Billy McKinney has taken advantage of an unexpected opportunity.

Invited across the street from the Minor League complex after Tyler Austin and Mason Williams sustained injuries early in the spring, the 22-year-old outfielder hit his third Grapefruit League homer on Saturday and now finds himself squarely on the organization's radar.

"He's swung the bat great. Even his outs are hard," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He's taken advantage of his situation where he got to come to camp because of a couple injuries. He's swung it extremely well, so I'm excited to follow him this year."

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A former Athletics first-round pick who was acquired from the Cubs in last July's Aroldis Chapman trade, McKinney is hitting .412 (7-for-17) with two doubles, three homers, seven RBIs and just one strikeout in 15 games this spring. This marks his first career invitation to big league camp.

McKinney's single to right

"I've been just trying to stay with the grind and follow the guys and be part of the team, and just follow along and learn," McKinney said. "That's a big part of the process I've been trying to stick to, and watch guys like [Aaron] Judge and [Brett] Gardner, [Aaron] Hicks, [Jacoby] Ellsbury, all those guys. Just trying to learn and get better every day."

McKinney's prospect stock dipped after he sustained a hairline fracture in his right knee on a foul ball, ending his 2015 campaign with Class Advanced A Carolina. He batted .246/.342/.338 with four homers and 44 RBIs in 123 games last year, joining Double-A Trenton after the trade, but he said that he did not want to use the injury as an excuse.

"I feel good. I feel kind of like myself again," McKinney said. "I worked really hard this offseason trying to just get on top of getting my legs underneath me and just be strong. That's been a big goal of mine, just trying to get my strength back and maintain it without giving up on extra work or early work, stuff like that. Trying to be in there early every day."

He got the opportunity to do so on the big league side after Austin fractured his left foot on a batting practice foul ball. With Austin out for at least six weeks, Yankees vice president of player development Gary Denbo told McKinney to report to George M. Steinbrenner Field for the Yankees' first full-squad workout on Feb. 19.

McKinney's RBI double to right

"An injury is always unfortunate and you never want anybody to get hurt," McKinney said. "A guy like Tyler is just a great teammate and person. I hope for him to have a quick and fast recovery and get back on the field as soon as possible. I'm just glad I got the chance."

The Yanks' crowded outfield mix indicates that McKinney will start the season back in the Minors, but he said that it has been fun to be viewed as part of the 'Baby Bombers' youth movement.

"It's awesome, seeing how everybody's been doing," McKinney said, naming Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier, Dustin Fowler and Tyler Wade among the Yanks' prospect pool. "Everybody's been doing great. The big league guys have been doing great too. It's been pretty cool to be a part of and see, and I feel like the fans are getting hyped around it which is a lot of fun to watch. Just a great vibe, I'd say."

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.