This article is part of the Know Your Orioles 40-man series, which features an article about each of the 38 players currently on the Orioles roster. There will be one every weekday until we run out of players.
Terms like ‘scrappy’ and ‘hard-nosed’ and ‘gritty’ get thrown around often when describing players. Maybe too much. These guys aren’t the biggest or the scariest, and their numbers usually don’t jump off the stat sheet. But they play with intensity and a chip on their shoulder, like today’s entry on our 40-man roster series, Ryan McKenna.
Whether that translates to a long and successful major league career is unknown. In a way, the scrappy title tempers expectations for a player like McKenna, who would be overexposed as an everyday MLB player.
A former 4th round draft pick of the O’s in 2015 out of St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Dover, New Hampshire, McKenna split last year between Norfolk and the bigs. He very recently turned 25 and will be arbitration eligible for the first time in 2025. The earliest he can reach free agency is three years after that.
Across parts of six minor league seasons (487 games), McKenna carries a .266/.354/.404 slash line with a .758 OPS. He’s topped out at 11 home runs twice: in 2018, when he played for Frederick and Bowie, and last year with Norfolk. He stole 25 bases as recently as 2019 with the Baysox, while his previous high for steals was 20 with Delmarva in 2017.
After tearing apart Triple-A pitching in 2021, there’s not much left for McKenna to prove in the minors. In 27 games with Norfolk last year, he slashed .307/.423/.683 with a 1.106 OPS and seven stolen bases.
McKenna also appeared in 90 games with the Orioles in 2021, posting a meager .183/.292/.266 triple slash line in 169 at-bats. Of his 31 hits against MLB pitching, McKenna had six doubles, one triple, and two home runs.
While he showed a good eye at the plate, his OBP was depressed by his sub-200 batting average. He also struck out a lot (37.6 K%). Hopefully, he can cut down on the strikeouts without sacrificing on-base skills.
According to Fangraphs advanced fielding, McKenna’s best defensive position last season with the O’s was left field, where he put up a 3.0 UZR and 13.3 UZR/150 in 235.2 innings. But including his 108 innings in center and 113.2 in right, McKenna’s overall UZR and UZR/150 numbers dropped to 0.1 and 0.3, respectively.
Also, don’t forget that the guy can fly. Statcast has McKenna’s sprint speed last year in the 95th percentile of all major leaguers. It was evident whenever he’d go first to third, tag up on a sacrifice, or score from second on a base hit. But McKenna’s speed did not show up with Baltimore in terms of steals. He only swiped one bag in 2021, so we’ll have to see if he can improve that part of his game.
Last year, the Orioles’ Opening Day roster included the following outfielders: Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander, and Austin Hays. Not a true 4th outfielder among them. Mullins has center locked down, and Mountcastle will be on 1B/DH duty, with Hays and Santander as solid corners.
That makes McKenna a strong candidate for the 4th outfielder role this coming season. He’s got the ability to shift between all three outfield spots and do the little things every lineup needs, like bunt, take pitches, and work opposing pitchers.
So what would a successful 2022 season look like for McKenna? For starters, it would not include as many demotions as last year, when he was sent down six times.
McKenna also needs to utilize his speed more on the base paths and steal more bags to take a step forward. He must also make more consistent contact and boost his average. It’s also crucial for him to maintain the skills that got everyone’s attention, including his plate discipline and glove work.
For what it’s worth, Baseball Reference projects the following numbers for McKenna in 2022: 261 AB, 7 HR, 29 RBI, 3 SB, .222 AVG, .311 OBP, .352 SLG, and a .663 OPS. Fangraphs Steamer projects him for 80 AB, 2 HR, .220 AVG, .305 OBP, and a .365 SLG.
End-of-season prediction: Ryan McKenna will build on his modest success from last year and continue to show the gritty style of play that has endeared him to many. The Orioles should work McKenna in all over the outfield to keep everyone fresh, and it’s reasonable to expect a modest bump in his batting average along with the rest of his triple slash line. Just don’t expect him to run away with a starting spot on the club. Nonetheless, he will be on the Orioles’ major league roster at the end of the 2022 season.
Previously: Félix Bautista, Logan Gillaspie, Isaac Mattson, Cionel Pérez, Bryan Baker, Rougned Odor, Joey Krehbiel, Tyler Nevin, Kyle Bradish, Rylan Bannon, Yusniel Díaz, Kelvin Gutiérrez, Kevin Smith, Terrin Vavra, D.L. Hall, Jahmai Jones, Bruce Zimmermann, Mike Baumann
Tomorrow: Dean Kremer