By STEVE KRAH
Zach McKinstry started thinking about baseball — really thinking about it — as a youngster in Fort Wayne.
Alex McKinstry started talking with his middle child about the intricacies of the game as he practiced his craft year-round. It was a thrill to be able to swing the bat during the winter thanks to Rich Dunno and his indoor facility.
“Growing up around the game, I felt I was ahead of the kids in Fort Wayne with baseball,” says Zach, now 23 and a middle infielder in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. “I got to play it almost all year-round. That was was really nice.”
Alex McKinstry was Zach’s coach in his final travel ball season and is still a coach with the Fort Wayne Diamondbacks. The instructor at Bill C. Anthis Career Center in Fort Wayne was head baseball coach when Zach played at Fort Wayne North Side High School and is now the junior varsity coach at Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran High School.
Zach’s older brother, Alex McKinstry, played four years of college baseball — two at the University of Northwestern Ohio and two at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne.
Zach was born in Toledo, Ohio, but moved with the family to Fort Wayne before elementary school. He started at Holy Cross Little League then played travel baseball from 10 on. First, there was the Summit City Thunder then Summit City Sluggers, Strike Zone Spiders and Manny Lopez-led Fort Wayne Cubs (now the Fort Wayne Diamondbacks).
Zach McKinstry played football and baseball at North Side, graduating in 2014. He then played two stellar seasons at Central Michigan University, earning co-team MVP honors in his final season of 2016 after hitting .325 with 10 doubles, two triples, 31 runs batted in and 12 stolen bases. Over two years, he hit .321 with 14 doubles, five triples, 45 RBIs and 20 pilfered bags.
As a draft eligible sophomore, McKinstry was selected in the 33rd round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Dodgers.
The 2016 season was split between the Short Season Class-A Arizona League Dodgers and Low-A Great Lakes (Mich.) Loons. He played for Great Lakes, High-A Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Quakes and Double-A Tulsa (Okla.) Drillers in 2017.
McKinstry started the 2018 campaign at Great Lakes and is now back with Rancho Cucamonga. In a combined 39 games, the left-handed swinger is hitting .388 with three home runs, eight doubles, two triples and nine RBIs.
Mostly a shortstop at Great Lakes, he has seen more action at second base with the Quakes. Rancho Cucamonga has a highly-touted shortstop in Gavin Lux and a top-notch second baseman in Omar Estevez.
Drew Saylor is the Quakes manager and Justin Viele the hitting coach.
LA’s Triple-A affiliate is the Oklahoma City Dodgers.
Going back to his younger days, McKinstry counts his Baseball I.Q. as one of his strengths.
“It’s being able to think the game on my own and having a feel for the game of baseball,” says McKinstry. “I understand what’s going on.
“My best tool is on tool and defense. I have the arm for throwing the ball across the diamond.”
As a batter, he’s been used in the Nos. 1, 2, 8 and 9 slots in the order.
“I’m a get-on-base kind of guy,” says McKinstry, who carries a .526 on-base percentage for 2018 and .365 for his pro career. “I get on for guys who can hit the ball hard in the air.”
Steve Jaksa was Central Michigan’s head coach during McKinstry’s time with the Chippewas.
“He had a passion for the game,” says McKinstry. “He carried himself very professionally. He knew what he needed to do to win baseball games and he taught me how to be a winner.
“He also taught how to take your losses and use them to you advantage — learn from what you did wrong and what you could have done differently.”
Though Jaksa did not name captains for 2016, McKinstry was considered one that spring.
“He taught me how to be a leader,” says McKinstry of Jaksa, who led leadership training in the off-season. “I really value him for that.
“He let me carry that team a little bit.”
Coming out of his shell, McKinstry developed the ability to speak to a roomful of ballplayers as well as go one-on-one.
“He could always rely on me to go to a freshman.” says McKinstry.
Besides Zach and the two Alexes, the McKinstry family features wife/mother Tracy (who is employed at James Medical) and daughter/sister Haley. The latter was a soccer player at North Side.
Zach McKinstry, a Fort Wayne North Side High School graduate who played at Central Michigan University, is now in the Los Angeles Dodgers system with the Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Quakes. (Steve Saenz Photo)
Zach McKinstry, who went to high school and played youth and travel baseball in Fort Wayne, Ind., was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2016 and now plays with the Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Quakes. (Steve Saenz Photo)