PLANO, Texas -- Compliments come often when you're a potential first-round Draft pick like Plano West outfielder Billy McKinney. He doesn't get cocky about his popularity. McKinney would rather remain humble than be another big-headed ballplayer.
But tell McKinney he plays like Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton, and he'd have no choice but to feel flattered. The 18-year-old prospect is left-handed and plays the same position as Hamilton. They're both unashamed and devout about their faith. McKinney said he even mimics his idol's swing, because it's so pretty.
"[Hamilton is] a heck of a player," said McKinney, who is one of eight amateur players who will attend the First-Year Player Draft on Thursday at MLB Network's Studio 42 in Secaucus, N.J. "I'd love the talent that he has and play like he plays. He plays hard and goes all out."
McKinney has never met Hamilton. He can only wish to meet the former Rangers outfielder, but their names could be intertwined on Draft day. MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo projects the Texas to select McKinney with the 30th pick. The Rangers received the compensatory pick after Hamilton declined a one-year qualifying offer sheet with the club and signed with the Angels in the offseason.
"That'd just be awesome, being a hometown kid and having so many people here," McKinney said. "I already got people supporting me and having them come out to the games, I always thought would be a movie. You're in the field and you look up in the stands and see your family and a lot of your friends from back home you remember. That'd always be really cool, I thought."
While Texas has two first-round Draft picks, McKinney said he's been told repeatedly there's a good chance he will get picked by his favorite team growing up. Even if that scenario doesn't play out, he's excited about the opportunity to go pro for any club that wants him. McKinney said he's been contacted by every team except the Nationals during the process.
"It's always been my dream to be a big leaguer and that's what I'd pursue," McKinney said. "If it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out. But I think it should."
McKinney's high school career worked out well despite the nerve-wrecking experience he had during his first at-bat as a freshman. McKinney said he was shaking when he faced McKinney High pitcher Zach Lee, who was drafted by the Dodgers in the first round in 2010, during a scrimmage. There were about 40 scouts on hand to watch Lee and Matthew Lipka, who was drafted 35th overall by the Braves the same year. McKinney grounded out to second in the at-bat.
"I was confused," McKinney said. "I went up there and there were scouts with radar guns as he was in the bullpen. I was like, 'What in the world is going on?' I didn't think of it as much."
The moment prepared McKinney for the same attention he received during his first scrimmage as a senior. Plano West varsity coach Kevin Clark said there were about 30 scouts when McKinney took batting practice against Rockwall Heath. By the time McKinney got dressed and hit the field, Clark counted 47 scouts at the scrimmage.
"Everywhere he goes, they know him," Clark said. "He's done a good job handling it all. He does a lot more things than a lot of these other guys do when he gets done. Either he's going to do a [batting practice] session somewhere for some scout coming through, or come hit in the middle of the day, go back to class and then come back out with everybody else. He's handled it great. He's got a very professional mindset with how he's handled it. But yet, it's still fun to come play the game."
McKinney led Plano West to the Class 5A semifinals this season. He hit .394 (39-for-99) with six home runs and 32 RBIs. Clark said McKinney became the leader of the team on and off the field, knowing everyone would look up to him. With all the attention he's received, McKinney's teammates teased him often, asking him questions about his Draft stock. McKinney said he'd get a kick when they'd send him photos of mock drafts or gang up on him if he made a mistake in the game, but he remained humble through it all.
"We really try to get into his head," sophomore designated hitter Bennett Oberstein said. "It's really hard to, and we tried to pull out everything in the book. He just keeps that straight face the whole time. He doesn't let anything get to him, and it's honestly really impressive. It resembles his work ethic."
McKinney signed with TCU during his senior season because he liked the makeup of the team and the ability to play close to his parents in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. His father, Bill McKinney, said Billy told the coaches all along that he would go pro if he got the opportunity.
"He's prepared to go to TCU, he'd loved to go TCU, but all things being equal, he wants to go pro," Bill Sr. said.
It doesn't matter to McKinney where he gets drafted. He understands the financial benefit that comes with a high Draft selection, but said he's doesn't want to live an extravagant lifestyle. McKinney doesn't plan on replacing his 2007 Toyota 4Runner anytime soon, although he's always asked what car he plans to purchase after the Draft.
"The car I have I like a lot, and I've seen so many stories of how people get that money and don't invest it correctly and lose it," McKinney said. "I'd want to invest it correctly and hope to have some money for me in the future."
McKinney played all three outfield positions and first base in high school. He said he reads mock drafts and scouting reports, and his evaluations vary from site to site. While McKinney is known for his bat, it's a mixed bag on his defensive abilities and his speed.
"If there's people that critique me, I just work on getting better at that or just show them that it's not true," McKinney said. "I guess that's just what some people think. I just think I can get the job if given the opportunity. I believe I can do the job regardless if I'm in center, right, left or first, really."
McKinney has already worked out for the Rangers, and he'll fly to Florida on Tuesday to work out for the Yankees at their Spring Training facility. He'll leave for Secaucus on Wednesday to find out where his journey as a professional will begin.
"I'm hoping for the best and seeing what all happens on Draft day," McKinney said. "I don't know where I'll get picked, or if I'll get picked. I'm just happy to have the opportunity to be spoken about on Draft day and be there."
And if Texas so happens to take the local kid, McKinney's movie scene just might play out the way he envisioned. He might even get to meet Hamilton, or play against him, down the road.
This year's Draft will take place Thursday through Saturday, beginning with the Draft preview show on MLB.com and MLB Network on Thursday at 6 p.m. ET. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 7 p.m., with the top 73 picks being streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on MLB Network. Rounds 3-10 will be streamed live on MLB.com on Friday, beginning with a preview show at 12:30 p.m., and Rounds 11-40 will be streamed live on MLB.com on Saturday, starting at 1 p.m.
MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 100 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. You can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft on Twitter and get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
Master Tesfatsion is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.