GLENDALE, Ariz. -- To every undersized and overlooked grinder in a baseball uniform, this one’s for you and the scout who finds you.
McKinstry owes it all, of course, to scout Trey Magnuson and former college teammate Nick Deeg.
Magnuson, in his second season as a scout, was on the trail of Deeg, a left-handed pitcher, in 2016. Magnuson’s current claim to fame is drafting and signing first-rounder Gavin Lux in 2016. But when he wasn’t hounding Lux that spring, Magnuson was patrolling his upper Midwest territory and one day went to see Deeg, a 6-foot-5 left-hander from Central Michigan University.
As occasionally happens in the scouting world, Magnuson saw something else. He saw McKinstry.
“I went looking for a left-handed pitcher and found a shortstop,” said Magnuson. “I just remember this skinny kid at shortstop really caught my eye. He was athletic, moved well, quick feet. Looking back at my report, I didn’t see him hitting 19 home runs (his 2019 total). I didn’t predict that kind of power. I remember he was a super nice kid, but when he got on the field he played with a chip on his shoulder. He wanted to beat you.”
Deeg spent two years in the Giants farm system, two more seasons in independent ball and now is an instructor at a Michigan baseball academy. There were exactly 1,000 players taken in that 2016 Draft before McKinstry, who was batting .400 with a 1.305 OPS in the Cactus League, going into Friday's game.
When asked who had impressed him during the first half of Dodgers camp, rags-to-riches All-Star Max Muncy landed on Cody Thomas, a two-sport phenom from Oklahoma, and McKinstry, whose resumé in many ways is a polar opposite of Thomas'.
“It just seems like they’re both having good at-bats, playing good defense,” Muncy said. “Both driving the ball well. For a couple young guys coming up, that’s not always easy to do in your first big league camp. They’re trying to make an impression and they’re doing a really good job of it. They’re doing it the right way. They’ve been working really hard and that stands out the most. What I’ve noticed the most is what they’re doing off the field. Going about their business and being quiet.”
Magnuson said he was aware of only three or four other clubs interested in McKinstry. Speculation at the time suggested that McKinstry’s uncommon status as a Draft-eligible sophomore at a four-year college might have kept him off some scouts' radar. Magnuson did the homework and was on him, but he also presumed teams might have shied away from McKinstry’s slight frame, which has since filled in.
“This is the perfect example of scouting and player development working together,” Magnuson said. “He’s filling out in all the right spots. It’s been a full-team effort.”
The 24-year-old McKinstry, who signed for a $100,000 bonus, is a natural shortstop with a power arm who (like many Dodgers) has played all over the field in the Minors, but mostly second base. He said he’s patterned his game after another fellow Midwesterner that retired nine years before he was born.
“I always liked watching videos of Pete Rose,” he said. “Watching him play the game, hard-nosed, played aggressive. He’s going to be the guy going hard to break up a double play and help a team win. That’s kind of, like, who I wanted to be.”
McKinstry could become the latest big leaguer from the 2016 Draft, which has the potential to be the most prolific for the Dodgers since the legendary 1968 edition, which sent 11 selections to the Major Leagues, including six All-Stars.
Already from the 2016 group, Lux, Will Smith, Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin have played for the Dodgers. Devin Smeltzer, dealt in the Brian Dozier trade, has made his Minnesota debut. Mitch White, Luke Raley, DJ Peters and McKinstry are on the 40-man roster while Thomas and Jordan Sheffield are currently in big league camp as non-roster invitees.
McKinstry was drafted latest of them all.
“The word of advice is, there’s always eyes on you,” said McKinstry. “I wasn’t the strongest, I wasn’t the biggest, I wasn’t the fastest -- I knew the game well and tried to use that to my advantage. Can’t say I’m surprised, but just feeding off from last year’s energy.”