When Orioles outfield prospect Ryan McKenna went to the Arizona Fall League in October, he had a chance to add to his batting average again. And he did that, batting well over .300 for Glendale as he faced some of the sport’s top pitching prospects.
It was a return to success for McKenna, who began this year by tearing it up in the Carolina League. But that was followed by some struggles when he moved up to the Eastern League. And that was followed by an outstanding AFL performance.
McKenna had hit .377/.467/.556 in 67 games with Single-A Frederick. He moved to Double-A Bowie in late June and hit .239/.341/.338 with the Baysox.
But in 17 games with Glendale, the 21-year-old McKenna hit .344/.474/.590. He scored 16 runs and produced six doubles, three triples, a homer and nine RBIs. He hit .383 against right-handed pitchers and finished second in the AFL with an OPS of 1.064. He was named to the all-AFL team by MLB.com.
“Obviously, you learn when you play at a higher level, and I took some things I learned at Bowie,” McKenna said of his strong play in the AFL. “That couple of weeks (before the fall season began) really let my body relax and recover. Health-wise, I felt pretty good energy. And it was a great environment, too. Great weather, great people around you, lot of positivity. That goes a long way, and a lot of knowledgeable players I could talk to.”
McKenna wanted to meet the challenge in Arizona and show he belongs among the game’s better prospects.
“One hundred percent,” he said in a recent phone interview from Florida, where he will work out this offseason. “You’ve got on a big league uniform and you’re playing with players that have been recognized as top prospects, and they’re very talented. There was a relatability. We all come from a similar background, we love the game and it was fun to learn from each other.
“Playing among the best competition, I’ve always had confidence in myself as a player and know I am capable of playing at that level. I’m just glad I had that opportunity.”
McKenna is from Maine and played in high school at St. Thomas Aquinas in New Hampshire. The Orioles made him their fourth-round pick in 2015, when he was taken 133rd overall and signed to a slot bonus of $414,700 by then-area scout Kirk Fredriksson. After hitting .256 in his first year of full-season ball for Single-A Delmarva in 2017, McKenna had a breakout year in 2018.
It ended with this right-handed hitting center fielder ranked as the Orioles’ No. 8 prospect by Baseball America and No. 12 by MLBPipeline.com. McKenna is a solid defender with good speed and the ability to play small ball. He put it all together in Arizona. So what was the key to his strong AFL season?
“Just tried to execute and really, really prepare,” he said. “Wanted to piggyback what I had done in Frederick. Always good to do well. There is a very minute variable in this game that can change the outcome. You just have to stay with your game and stay true to what works for you. A lot of my (success this) year was about little adjustments I made.”
And McKenna had to adjust to new teammates and a new league when he was promoted to Bowie. He admits that maybe the adjustment was tougher that he had imagined.
“Yes, your average goes back to zero, but you try to take every game like the last one didn’t count or matter,” McKenna said. “Try to take every game like you are batting zero and put good at-bats together one at a time. Be prepared.
“You know you kind of get in a groove and get comfortable, and then move to a new affiliate. You are around different guys. You see them in spring, but it’s different with a new group of guys. I had been with a lot of the guys in Frederick for two or three years. It was different, but not negative different. I’m glad I was promoted to learn how that works. You have to be comfortable being uncomfortable sometimes.”
McKenna probably will start the 2019 season at Double-A. But he’ll go there with confidence as he bookended his breakout 2018 season as a top player in the Carolina League and also in the AFL
Coming soon, I’ll have more with McKenna as he talks about an adjustment he made about this time last winter that produced strong results.