Los Angeles Dodgers prospect Zach McKinstry saw his dreams come to fruition on Wednesday afternoon, making his MLB debut with a pinch-hit appearance in a 7-5 win over the San Diego Padres at Petco Park.
The 25-year-old made his way onto the radar with a breakout Spring Training and then followed it up with a strong Summer Camp as well. He is a perfect example of what the Dodgers organization has come to value in recent years as he has tremendous defensive versatility.
That wasn’t good enough for McKinstry to make the Opening Day roster, considering how much talent is in the organization, so he began the year at the team’s alternate training site at USC.
“Just trying to get reps at all the positions I play. A lot of reps at shortstop, a lot of reps in the outfield. Just trying to maintain that and keep learning every day,” McKinstry said of his time at the alternate training site.
Prior to making his debut, McKinstry had been with the Dodgers on the taxi squad and he was previously on the active roster for one day. Time spent with the team allowed McKinstry to continue learning from others, including Mookie Betts.
“When I would come up on the taxi squad, Mookie Betts would talk to me a little bit about outfield. Just take those things over there (to alternate site) and try to work on them. With at-bats, just trying to stay patient,” McKinstry explained.
It is a testament to the Dodgers’ veteran leadership that so many young players have been called up and had immediate success. McKinstry struck out in the first at-bat of his career, although he credited Justin Turner for helping him not get too down on himself.
“J.T. was talking to me after my at-bat and he was like, ‘Hey man, I struck out in my first at-bat too.’ He was just telling me about his story, his first hit, his first start and all that stuff,” McKinstry recalled.
“It definitely helps having a veteran come pat you on the back and tell you everything is going to be all right, he was in the same spot as you one time and now he’s a 10-year big leaguer. That’s always great to have.”
Something that McKinstry has been working on is breathing more to help ease his nerves, but that all went out the window when he stepped in the batter’s box for his first career at-bat.
“Manny Machado was walking over to third base and it kind of hit me like a tsunami of emotions,” he said with a laugh. “Just looking back on the years of baseball, the work you put in all those cold winters, waking up early. It kind of all hit me at once, my nerves were shooting through the roof and my heart was breathing hard.
“I thought I had an alright at-bat, swung at pitches that were in the strike zone. He just made a really good pitch that last pitch.”
McKinstry compared MLB debut to roller coster
While McKinstry learned from Betts during his previous times being with the team, those experiences didn’t necessarily make his debut any easier.
“I was thinking it probably built up those emotions even more,” he said. “It’s kind of like you’re at an amusement park and standing in line, and the ride you really wanted to ride on got shut down and you’re the third person in line.
“You have to wait two or three weeks or a month to go back on that ride. If you can relate to that, that’s probably the best way I can explain it.”
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