A former Central Michigan baseball star is off to an incredible start and has forced his way into the starting lineup for the defending World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers.
Zach McKinstry, a 25-year-old rookie in a super utility role for the Dodgers, has started seven straight games and is slashing .321/.355/.679 -- good for a 1.033 OPS.
On Saturday, McKinstry hit a (sun aided) RBI double off of Max Scherzer and a two-run home run off of Tanner Rainey to account for all three runs in a 3-0 win over the Washington Nationals.
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Coming into the season, McKinstry had played just four games at the MLB level, going 2-for-7 with a single, a double and three strikeouts in seven at-bats in 2020.
McKinstry played two seasons for the Chippewas, posting a .776 OPS in 118 games across 2015 and 2016. He didn’t hit a home run during his CMU career, but posted a .403 on-base percentage thanks to 53 walks (compared to just 63 strikeouts) and 148 hits.
It was enough for the Dodgers to select McKinstry in the 33rd round of the 2016 draft.
In the minors, McKinstry’s production mirrored what he did in college: solid numbers, but nothing that jump off the page. He slashed .270/.357/.416 (.773 OPS) with 30 home runs, 61 doubles and a low strikeout rate in 356 games.
He didn’t hit well at all in spring training, striking out 14 times in 42 at-bats with a .699 OPS. But as soon as the season started, McKinstry started raking.
In his first two games, McKinstry came off the bench in the seventh inning. In the first game, his only trip to the plate resulted in a double. The next game, he went 1-for-2 with a home run.
McKinstry has started every game since, playing second base and both corner outfield spots. Sure, injuries to star outfielders Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger helped get McKinstry in the lineup, but this is still a roster loaded with names like Corey Seager, Justin Turner, Max Muncy, Chris Taylor, A.J. Pollock, Edwin Rios and Gavin Lux.
Even when during an 0-11 slump over three games last week, manager Dave Roberts stuck with McKinstry. The rookie rewarded him by breaking out with five RBI in the final two games vs. Washington.
It might be difficult for McKinstry to crack the everyday lineup when Betts and Bellinger return. Muncy, Seager, Lux and Turner will get most of the starts on the infield, with Taylor and Pollock sharing time alongside the two stars in the outfield.
But the Dodgers are notorious for mixing up lineups and giving players extra time off, so if McKinstry continues to hit, he’ll find his way into the lineup.
For a 33rd round pick out of Central Michigan, that’s a pretty strong start to a career.