Can Zach McKinstry settle into a rhythm and play his way into part of the Cubs’ future?
The final three-plus weeks of the 2022 regular season will be extremely important for a bunch of players on the Cubs roster.
Zach McKinstry is up near the top of that list as the 27-year-old could play his way into the Cubs’ long-term plans with a strong September.
With Nick Madrigal on the IL and possibly done for the season, the Cubs have a wide open spot at second base. Christopher Morel can still see time there and David Bote also has experience at the position but they both also play elsewhere on the diamond. The left-handed-hitting McKinstry could see a lot of time at second base against right-handed starters.
It’s been an up-and-down first five weeks in a Cubs uniform for McKinstry. He was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for veteran reliever Chris Martin just before the trade deadline.
McKinstry is a self-made prospect who was selected in the 33rd round out of Central Michigan in 2016. He has never been on top prospect lists but put up some impressive minor league numbers as he came up through the Dodgers system.
In 2019, he hit .300 with 19 homers and an .882 OPS in 121 games between Double-A and Triple-A. In 48 games at Triple-A this season, he was slashing .335/.417/.487 (.904 OPS) before the trade.
McKinstry began September on an 0-for-15 skid but busted out of that in a big way Sunday night with a 4-hit day (which included a double, triple and run scored).
He never received consistent playing time on a loaded roster in L.A. but now he has some runway to get into a rhythm with the Cubs — which is exactly what his new manager has seen of late.
“I feel like that rhythm for him when it’s there, getting on time, getting ready to hit,” David Ross said. “When he first got here, looked a little bit more passive than he has here lately. You see the power showing up a little bit more — some gap power.
“Looks like he’s just getting ready to hit a little bit earlier and kinda getting good pitches to hit. It feels like it’s a really calm at-bat a lot of the times. When he first got here, pressing down a little bit and [now] getting off that back side when he’s been going well.”
Ryan Sweeney saw the same thing and provided a breakdown of McKinstry’s approach at the plate after Sunday night’s game on Cubs Postgame Live (full breakdown in the video above).
Sweeney — a fellow left-handed hitter who played 9 years in the big leagues — analyzed McKinstry’s toe-tap and how it led to a big offensive game.
“With a toe-tap, there comes a lot of timing,” Sweeney said. “I used to do that as well. Lifting that leg up and just kinda getting those hands back and starting to simplify things.
“With Madrigal going on the IL, now possibly playing more, being in that leadoff spot, taking a little bit of pressure off of him and he goes out there and gets 4 knocks.”
As Sweeney said, timing was key for McKinstry Sunday night. The Giants had him played to the opposite field all night but the Cubs second baseman turned on a 95 mph fastball for his first hit and then later in the game, smacked a 97 mph pitch for a double between the San Francisco outfielders in center.
In the 9th, McKinstry didn’t miss — or foul back — a 90 mph slider in the heart of the plate and instead deposited it in the right field corner for a triple.
Even with the 4-hit game, McKinstry is still only batting .205 with a .574 OPS in 28 games in Chicago. But if his timing is truly on point, it could be an interesting final few weeks for a guy who is still young and can provide a lot of versatility to the Cubs moving forward.