Ticketed to start the 2020 season at Triple-A Norfolk, outfielder Ryan McKenna, like all minor league players, didn’t get in any games last summer. He spent a lot of time putting in quality work at the O’s alternate site and trying to improve his game.
He was on the taxi squad a few times, traveling with the Orioles, but never made the active roster.
Yesterday he did.
When Austin Hays went to the injured list, the 24-year-old McKenna was activated. And then he got a start. Before he’s ever played a single game at the Triple-A level.
Unlike the pre-COVID days, he didn’t get the call from a minor league skipper and have to hurriedly rush to an airport to join the big league team. He was already at Yankee Stadium on the taxi squad for the series-opening road trip.
“We had an advance meeting to go over some stuff. Just kind of the game plan going forward for the series,” McKenna said in a Zoom interview this afternoon. “Hyder (manager Brandon Hyde) and (general manager Mike) Elias were there. They pulled me off to a separate room and said, ‘Hey, congratulations. You’ve been called up. We’re excited to have you here and you’re starting in right field tonight.’ It was a pretty cool experience and obviously a moment you’ve been dreaming about your whole life. It was awesome.”
Then the fourth-round pick in 2015 from St. Thomas Aquinas (N.H.) High School had some important calls to make.
“It was cool. I got to call my dad and my family. I FaceTimed them. They were hooting and hollering and super excited,” he said. “I had this big ‘ol grin on my face. They said, ‘I haven’t seen you smile like that in a long, long time. Something good must be happening.’ It was a cool experience to share with them and, you know, they’ve been kind of a foundation for me. I’m super blessed to have them in my corner my whole career. That was my first call and my agent, I told him, because he’s done a lot for me as well. Those were the first couple and it was a great moment.”
McKenna is ranked as the Orioles’ No. 15 prospect per MLBPipeline.com and No. 25 by Baseball America.
He was added to the club’s 40-man roster after the 2019 season when he spent all year with Double-A Bowie. He hit .232 with 26 doubles, six triples, nine home runs, 78 runs scored, 54 RBIs and 25 stolen bases in 135 games. He finished tied for first in the Eastern League in games and runs, ranked fourth in the league in triples, tied for sixth in walks (59), tied for eighth in doubles and stolen bases, and tied for ninth in total bases (179).
Batting ninth last night, he went 0-for-2 with a walk. He grounded out with two outs and two on against Yankees lefty Jordan Montgomery in the fifth inning.
“It was fun,” McKenna said. “Excitement level was definitely there. You know, I had tried to do as best as I could to control the emotions. I was actually proud of the way I composed myself. You know, Yankee Stadium, it’s a pretty cool place to make your debut. I was definitely very excited. My family (parents and brother) was able to come up and enjoy the experience as well.
“I was lucky enough to be on the taxi squad last year to try to get to feel out the environment a little bit. I grew up close to Fenway Park, so I was there quite a bit growing up. Here as well, just kind of playing in amateur tournaments and stuff like that. Just being in the environment definitely gives you a more realistic feel. It was an awesome experience and a good day.”
In 2018, he began the year with then Single-A Frederick and led the Carolina League, batting .377, when he was promoted to Double-A in late June. He has hit .234 in parts of two season with the Baysox. He talked about spending quality time with the coaches last summer at the alternate site in Bowie.
“They are very educated on the analytical portion of the game,” McKenna said. “It was really interesting to dive deep into very direct applicable stuff for me and my swing. They kind of gave me the breakdown of history on past guys, just to help me going forward with my approach.
“And I think just overall trying to make my swing a little bit more on plane and a little bit more consistent contact will ultimately help me put more balls in play and have those hard-hit balls be able to have base hits. So that is just my goal going forward to keep doing that and building off that type of stuff.”