This former prospect finding a home atop Tigers’ lineup

Detroit Tigers

DETROIT — Joining a new team after a trade comes with an adjustment period. A player has to deal with new coaches, new teammates and a new city.

Tigers utility man Zach McKinstry,  who is on his third team in two years, knows this experience well. He also knows that the key to establishing a permanent spot in Detroit is his ability to play multiple spots on the field.

“His mentality has been very good since day one,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “The more I’m around him, the more I understand it’s part of his overall demeanor. He does his part, and he’s very selfless and will do whatever we ask.”

Part of the reason McKinstry looks so comfortable in Detroit is because he feels like a local.  He played collegiately at Central Michigan University and was born in Toledo, Ohio. He grew up in Indiana, and it’s common to have family and friends rooting him on at Comerica Park.

So far, he has given them plenty of reasons to cheer.

In 34 games, the 28-year-old has made appearances at second base (22), right field (seven), left field (five), third base (four), shortstop (two) and even on the mound.

“We thought his skills translated into being a really good defender,” Hinch said. “His closing speed is really good, his arm strength is really good, and his decision-making in the outfield is really good.”

The Tigers intended to play McKinstry more on the infield, but Hinch said he has been “stingy” with his infield play because of how efficient McKinstry has been in the outfield. He has made more appearances at second base than any other position this season, with only two errors in 22 games. He has yet to commit an error at any other position.

McKinstry has also been productive at the plate, entering Friday with a hit in six of his last seven games and hitting .364 with one RBI and three runs scored during that stretch. Through 34 games, he’s hitting .275 with two home runs and six RBIs.

Detroit utilizes the lefty-swinging McKinstry most often against right-handed pitchers. He’s hitting .281 against them and has also worked his way into the leadoff spot, where he’s hitting .304 in 46 at-bats.

“Even when there’s a lefty on the mound and they take me out, I’m fine with it. I’m going to cheer for whoever comes in for me or whoever is making the start,” said McKinstry, who led off Friday night’s game against the Nationals with his third home run of the year.

It’s been quite a journey for McKinstry.

The former CMU Chippewa was drafted in 2016 by the Dodgers in the 33rd round and became one of Los Angeles’ top prospects. During the 2019 season, he hit .300 playing with both Double-A Tulsa and Triple-A Oklahoma City. In 2020, MLB Pipeline had McKinstry at No. 20 in the prospect rankings for the Dodgers.

That year he made his MLB debut, appearing in four games and hitting .286 with one double and one run scored.

During the 2021 season, McKinstry saw action in 60 games and finished with a .215 batting average in 158 at-bats. The next season he made 10 appearances with the Dodgers and hit .091 before being traded to the Cubs on July 30.

McKinstry’s time in Chicago was brief, appearing in 47 games and batting .206 with four home runs and 12 RBIs, before being traded on March 27 to Detroit.

He has shown glimpses of speed. In 155 big league games, McKinstry has stolen 13 bases and has been thrown out only twice. Five of those stolen bases have come this season. In the Minors, he stole 27 bases in 444 games.

“I’m going to continue to be aggressive on the basepaths and take that extra 90 [feet] if I can,” McKinstry said. “I want to steal some bases and also try to get on base for the guys who are getting paid the big bucks to hit me in.”

For McKinstry to stay put in the Motor City, he’ll have to stay on the move. And that’s exactly what he intends on doing.

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