June 4th, 1996: the Oakland A’s, with their first pick, in the first round (10th overall) select Eric Chavez, an infielder from Mt. Carmel High School in San Diego. Sixteen years later, to the day (June 4th, 2012), the A’s, with their first pick in the first round (11th overall) select Addison Russell; an infielder from Pace High School in Pace Florida.
Sixteen years between Oakland selecting a high school player in the first round, with their first draft pick (Trevor Cahill was a second round selection; we’re talking apples-to-apples right now.) Then, the very next year, they follow with another first pick, first round (24th overall) selection out of high school — Billy McKinney; an outfielder from Plano West Senior High School in Plano, Texas.
Will Eric Kubota and his brilliant staff of amateur scouts go for a three-peat of high school picks today? We don’t know. And, because Oakland repeated as AL West Champions in 2013, we won’t know until the end of the first round, when the first pick, the 25th selection overall, is made. A lot can happen between the 1st and the 25th picks. What we do know is 95% of baseball fans can only imagine how the young men entering the draft will feel. One thing is certain in this group; all are curious about the experience of being on the cusp of something so life-altering as to be the first player selected by a team. To have one organization essentially say to you, “From all the incredibly talented athletes–slash-young-men for our consideration, we choose you (fill in name here) to be the first one to join the Green and Gold.”
Whether the name called by Commissioner Bud Selig belongs to a college athlete or a recent high school graduate; a pitcher or a position player; a righty or a lefty, there is a small fraternity of former #1 picks who knows just what he is, and will be, experiencing … and the most recent member in the A’s organization, Billy McKinney, was nice enough to share some memories and perspective of what it’s like to go from being a top Draft Prospect to a top organizational prospect within a few days.
It must be stated that Billy McKinney is incredibly well-spoken, carries himself with the maturity greater than his 19 years, and, if you didn’t know he was drafted out of high school, would believe he was an Ivy Leaguer; he’s a smart kid who expresses himself very well. If you are looking for the “It” Factor, look no further than this native of Plano, Texas.
“It was one of the most exciting nights of my life as I was up to 3 o’clock in the morning responding to calls, texts and Twitter posts to all my friends and family” – Billy McKinney
Now, let’s take a walk in the shoes of this impressive young man:
LEADING UP TO THE DRAFT
Billy and his parents were invited and chose to attend the televised portion of the draft at the MLB Network Studios in Secaucus, NJ. Until the day-of, Oakland wasn’t in the conversation of serious teams that the McKinneys believed to be Billy’s future employer. Initially, he believed he would be drafted by the New York Yankees…until a scout from the Yankees called Billy’s father to ask if they knew Oakland had interest in him.
Even with the mention earlier in the day, the McKinneys were surprised, and excited, when Commissioner Bud Selig called his name as the 1st round pick of the Oakland Athletics, and the 24th pick overall. Area scout Armann Brown, who is credited with “acquainting the organization” with 2010 top pick Michael Choice, is responsible for doing the same with McKinney. The 2013 top pick holds Brown in very high regard as a person as well as a scout.
When asked if he had been nervous on draft day, McKinney shared, “The biggest concern I had was being in the studio, and not being picked within the first two rounds. Luckily for me the best organization in the MLB called my name.” And his parents, who were in studio with him, were the first to congratulate him, as well!
When McKinney’s name was called on June 6th, 2013, he was given an Oakland A’s hat and jersey to wear as he made his way to the podium and shook the hand of Commissioner Selig. However, Billy said he could not keep the jersey that he, “proudly wore during the draft”; he had to return it to MLB. Wonder if it is re-issued this year?
Once all of the festivities subsided, the newly drafted players and families made their way back to their hotel.
“It was one of the most exciting nights of my life as I was up to 3 o’clock in the morning responding to calls, texts and Twitter posts to all my friends and family,” McKinney said.
After the draft, McKinney went home to Texas, participated in the graduation ceremony of Plano West High School and attended a graduation party. He also heard from former USA Baseball contemporaries, 2012 Comp A & B picks, Matt Olson and Daniel Robertson, who were playing in the Midwest League. They congratulated Billy and welcomed him to the best organization in MLB. NOTE:Addison Russell was playing for the Stockton Ports in the California League and his path had not previously crossed with Billy’s but once they did meet, he could not have been nicer or more welcoming to the young man from Plano, Texas.
The weekend of June 14th, after enjoying the graduation celebrations, McKinney, who is represented by Calvin Murray and Scott Boras, flew west to Oakland to sign his contract, with his parents, brother Ashton, Armann Brown, and the other Billy (Beane) present, to make this deal official! McKinney also had a locker with a jersey waiting for him in the clubhouse of the O.co Coliseum. Following the important paperwork session, McKinney took batting practice on the field prior to the game against the Seattle Mariners. Soon after, he was on his way to Phoenix to start his professional career with the Arizona League A’s.
“it was a fast and enjoyable couple of weeks,” McKinney said.
GETTING TO WORK
Once the contracts were signed, financial advisors selected, and ceremonial BP in Oakland taken, it was time to get to work! When McKinney arrived at the clubhouse at Papago Sports Complex, there was a jersey with #4 hanging In his locker, and so that became his number. First game of McKinney’s professional career was on June 20th, 2013 at Scottsdale Stadium against the eventual AZL Champs (with the league MVP Christian Arroyo) Giants. Amidst all of the excitement and fun of his professional debut, the quality of players and specifically the quality pitching, along with the speed of the game, are the things that stood out most to McKinney.
The fact that the first pitch temperature was 103 degrees didn’t seem to bother him.
McKinney said he wasn’t concerned about the heat nor whether he would spend all season in the aptly named “Fire League”, which he nearly did, escaping only for the final two weeks to play with Vermont in the short-season New York-Penn League.
“All I was focused on was playing to the best of my ability,” McKinney said. “I trusted the A’s management to make the best decisions for me from a playing perspective.”
With all of the changes and responsibilities thrust upon him as a “working man,” McKinney says the biggest adjustment that he and roommate A.J. Kubala had to make that first summer was learning to live on their own. McKinney — who calls Kubala “one of the best roommates a player could have. What a great player and friend” — said they both grew up that summer.
The fact that Billy wants to be productive at his job with the A’s and wants to be his best/ do his best is no surprise. He admits he may have put additional pressure on himself, especially on top of all the assumed pressure from being the top pick of the Oakland A’s. Eventually, however, he settled in.
“I came to focus on hitting the ball well and everything else would fall into place,” McKinney said.
SOME THOUGHTS FROM THE PAST YEAR
McKinney has some advice for the A’s next #1 pick, who McKinney is planning to contact and welcome to the fold, if possible.”Enjoy the ride and welcome to the best team in Major League Baseball,” McKInney said.
McKinney also reflected on the most enjoyable part of his first year as a professional baseball player.
“I have enjoyed getting to know all the different players within the A’s organization,” he said. “Every one of them are great players and are very helpful in providing feedback on how to play the game.”
On top of everything, McKinney is always first a team player. His Ports are currently 31-30 and McKinney himself has seven homers and a .342 OBP despite being the youngest player on the Stockton roster.
“Good luck to all Oakland teams in their pursuit of winning their league championship,” McKinney said.
Whoever you are, Mr. 25th overall, welcome to the Oakland A’s!