Josh Michael: Rifaela, McKenna making strong early impressions

The Orioles may not be playing as well as all fans had hoped, but there is some good baseball being played down on the farm. Two of the lesser-known outfield prospects in the organization, Ademar Rifaela and Ryan McKenna, are off to fantastic starts.

Rifaela, 23, has been in the organization since 2013, when he played for the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League Orioles as an 18-year old after being signed by the O’s as an international free agent out of Curacao. As his body matured, so too came his power, and now he is quietly one of the outfield prospects to watch in the O’s system.

He is playing for the Double-A Bowie Baysox this season and is off to a phenomenal start at the plate. Over 26 games, Rifaela is hitting .292 with five doubles, one triple, one home run, seven RBIs and has scored nine runs. In addition, he owns a .324 OBP and has a .396 slugging percentage.

The left-handed hitting Rifaela is second on the team in batting average behind Corban Joseph, and it’s important to point out that he is over a year younger than the average age in the Eastern League.

I was in attendance for the Baysox game last Saturday, and was very impressed with him at the plate. He got robbed a couple of times in that game with defenders making terrific plays against him, but he had that sound off the bat that you want to hear. His hands were very quick and his lower half was very mechanically sound.

The strong start is extremely encouraging after the massive year he had in 2017 with the high Single-A Frederick Keys. Rifaela hit .284 with 23 doubles, one triple, 24 home runs, 78 RBIs and scored 73 runs to go along with a .358 OBP and a .858 OPS. He finished the year leading the Carolina League in home runs and total bases, finished second in RBIs, fourth in runs scored and fifth in hits. Those numbers earned him the Carolina League Most Valuable Player award as well as a postseason All-Star and MiLB.com organization All-Star selections.

McKenna, 21, was selected by the Orioles in the fourth round of the 2015 First-Year Player Draft out of St. Thomas Aquinas in Dover, N.H. He has progressed to the next level each year in the organization and, more importantly, has improved with each progression.

This year with the Keys, McKenna is hitting a robust .333 with eight doubles, two home runs, 14 RBIs and has scored 26 runs in 31 games. In addition, he also owns a very impressive .426 OBP and .872 OPS. McKenna is known for his speed, and stole 17 and 20 bases in 2016 and 2017, respectively. He has four swipes thus far this season.

It’s pretty easy to see that McKenna has been one of the standout performers in the entire Carolina League in 2018. He currently ranks second in runs scored and batting average, third in OBP, ninth in OPS and 10th total bases.

One of the best things about McKenna is the fact that he is an above-average defender in center field and has a terrific first step. In combination with that quick first step and his speed, he brings with him a dimension that will serve him well as he progresses through the system.

O’s fans may not be familiar with McKenna and Rifaela, but if both continue to produce the way they have been, I have a feeling that fans will begin to hear their names more often.

Josh Michael blogs about the Orioles for Baby Birdland. Follow him on Twitter: @BabyBirdland. His opinions on the Orioles will appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s longstanding initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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