In the Arizona Fall League, baseball is not about wins and losses. It is about learning something new and having some fun while learning it.
That is precisely what Billy McKinney is doing in his time in the Fall League as he is relearning first base after not playing in the infield since high school.
McKinney said that it was just a matter of putting in reps to become better at first base, adding that his experience at the position has made it easier to learn.
“It’s going well; I’ve gotten a few ground balls, I haven’t been getting too many yet,” McKinney said. “I feel like I’m doing all right.”
Other than just taking ground balls McKinney is focusing on his footwork and making picks on bad throws around the bag with the manager of the Scottsdale Scorpions and Tampa Yankees, Jay Bell.
Bell said since the start of the fall league a little over two weeks ago, McKinney’s footwork has already improved.
“He’s got three starts at first base so far, and he’s done well,” Bell said. “He made a couple of plays to his glove side that have been good.”
McKinney has also looked good when fielding the ball off the first base bag and when converting the old 3-1 putout.
This play can be challenging for a player who has spent the last five years of his career in the outfield, but McKinney seems to be getting a handle on it.
Bell said learning and perfecting the nuances of the position is part of teaching McKinney the building blocks of first base.
Their goal is to reach a point where the other infielders trust McKinney and do not have to think about making perfect throws every time to avoid an error.
“Whenever the other infielders feel comfortable throwing to that first baseman, they tend to make better throws,” Bell said.
Bell does not want to create an Instructional league or Spring Training vibe; he wants McKinney to have fun while getting his work in.
“You want them to enjoy it,” Bells said, “(and)At the same time you want (them) to get their work in so they can improve, and they can get a little bit of knowledge.”
McKinney is doing a ‘solid average’ job adjusting to first base according to the Tampa Yankees manager. Bell defined solid average as a player doing a good or solid job playing a position every day.
“What I look for in a player is (for him to be) solid average,” Bell said. “Give me that daily, and I can show you a guy that is going to make all the routine plays.”
For Bell, once a player becomes ‘solid average’ he has what it takes to make the major leagues and help a team win a championship.
However, before McKinney can help the Yankees win a championship he has to make the team learning first base might help him crack a young, talented and crowded roster.
“The more positions you can play the better,” McKinney said. “That’s one more position to play to help me get on the field.”
McKinney was initially drafted by the Oakland Athletics, traded to the Cubs and then last season the Yankees in the deal that sent Aroldis Chapman to Chicago last year.
This offseason could result in another change of scenery for the Yankee prospect. McKinney is eligible for the rule 5 draft this offseason if not added to the Yankees 40 man roster.
McKinney said he is not thinking about the possible change and focusing on how he can improve over the next few weeks.
“I’m just trying to get better every day and get better,” McKinney said, “(I’m)Just looking forward to the rest of the fall league.”