While nobody from the 2017 Delmarva Shorebirds has made it to the major leagues as of the end of 2019, one of that team's youngest members has taken perhaps his most important step yet in making it all the way to Baltimore. And in the relative calm of the offseason, no less.
On Wednesday the Orioles announced that outfield prospect Ryan McKenna had been named to the team's 40-man roster, along with three of his fellow high-prized minor leaguers. Born in 1997, the 22-year-old is the youngest member of Baltimore's 40-man. In addition to being signed to a major league contract, McKenna's new status protects him from being cherrypicked away by another club in next month's MLB Rule 5 Draft.
In short, the Orioles are confident enough that McKenna will be an asset in the big leagues to put him on the organization's most coveted shortlist. He stands a very real chance of making it to The Show next year.
A rare high-prized high school outfielder to hail from New England, McKenna became Baltimore's fourth-round pick in 2015 out of St. Thomas Aquinas in Dover, N.H. After a summer in Sarasota and another in Aberdeen, he made the Shorebirds' Opening Day roster in 2017 as a 20-year-old. Things started slow for McKenna but he eventually settled in, rising up on June 12 with a walk-off single to beat Kannapolis in the bottom of the 13th. The heroics sparked something in McKenna, who batted .280 after the All-Star Break and finished third in the South Atlantic League with 33 doubles.
The 2017-18 offseason may have come at a bad time for a hitter who was just settling into his groove, but McKenna took his resurgence to new heights with Frederick in 2018. He put up blistering first half numbers, slashing .377/.467/.556 with 28 extra-base hits and 60 runs scored over 67 games. One man who played a big role in McKenna's breakthrough was then-Keys hitting coach Kyle Moore, who managed the Shorebirds to a franchise record 90 wins the next year.
"Moore tries to keep it simple and tries to find what he thinks will allow us to perform to the best of our ability," said McKenna in an interview for the Shorebirds' PlayBall! magazine in June 2018. "We've got a good environment here; it's all positive, and I'm just trying to get together some good at-bats."
Had he stuck around Frederick he would've likely been named Carolina League MVP. But the Orioles had greater plans for McKenna, who was promoted to Bowie at the All-Star Break. As it is for so many prospects, the young outfielder's first foray into Double-A was trying; he hit just .239 over 60 initial games with the Baysox. But the body of work across both levels was enough to earn McKenna a roster spot in the prestigious Arizona Fall League. It was the Frederick version of McKenna who reemerged with the Glendale Desert Dogs: he hit .344 (fifth in the AFL) with a 1.064 OPS (second) against some of the best prospects in baseball.
While Double-A pitching remained a mystery for most of 2019, McKenna was an everyday piece in Buck Britton's lineup, playing 135 out of 140 games and batting .232. This year his 2017 Shorebird teammates began trickling into the Bowie clubhouse: ex-Delmarva standouts like Alex Wells, Preston Palmeiro, and Steven Klimek joined McKenna at Prince George's Stadium and helped the Baysox turn a 7-23 start into a berth in the Eastern League Championship Series.
As McKenna closes the books on 2019 his stock in Birdland is higher than ever. MLB Pipeline tabs him as the Orioles' 13th-best prospect with the ceiling of an everyday major league center fielder. A strong start with Triple-A Norfolk next season could fast-track him to the majors, where he could become the first Shorebird from the 2017 team, excluding rehabbers, to don the orange and black at Camden Yards. For the youngest member of the O's 40-man roster, the future may be the brightest.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.