A midseason resurgence for the Orioles' Double-A Bowie affiliate has come in tandem with an uptick in fortunes for one of their most promising players, 22-year-old outfielder Ryan McKenna.
McKenna, who entered the season as the Orioles' No. 8 prospect according to Baseball America, had four home runs in his five games entering Friday and is batting .340 (17-for-50) with 10 extra-base hits in his past 13 games, bringing his average to .237/.313/.397 as Bowie enters the All-Star break next week.
Since June 1, McKenna is batting .280/.338/.480 with five home runs.
“The guy's been working hard," said Baysox manager Buck Britton, who also had McKenna at Low-A Delmarva in 2017. "I think the biggest thing with McKenna was he came up last year in the second half after having that big first half in Frederick, and he kind of scuffled. I think that was kind of the first time he had to look at himself and say, 'Wait a second, this isn't going to be as easy as I thought it was.' "
McKenna's arrival in Bowie last year came in mid-June, as he was batting .377 with 28 extra-base hits in 67 games for the Keys. He wasn't able to replicate that success in the Eastern League, ending his two months in Double-A batting .239 with a .679 OPS.
"That's a pretty big jump," Britton said. "I don't think people realize how big that jump is. People see the minor leagues to the major leagues and see how big that jump is, but coming from A-ball to Double-A is a really big jump in play, especially for young players like McKenna. He's done a good job. It has taken some time for him to learn how to handle some adversity, but I think you're starting to see him maturing a little bit.”
Britton sees some of the recent success as a product of McKenna's work to overcome all the problems the league posed in his first few months there.
"The consistency of getting into a good position to hit and being on time has been important for him," Britton said. "We're starting to see some power start to come as he learns kind of what he can handle, and what he can't at the plate, and be consistent getting the barrel to the ball like that. He's got sneaky, big-time power.
"As he's gone through the season, I know the numbers aren't there if you look at the overall picture, but there's little things he's had to do with his swing, his approach, and you slowly see that stuff starting to come around, and you start to see the tools that he has start to play, because he's one of the most toolsy kids in the organization. For him to start figuring out stuff like he is has been good, and I know that's given him some confidence. That's really important."
Santander in center field
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde solved the problem of having six corner infield/outfield players for five spots by moving one — Anthony Santander — to center field for his first career start there Friday night.
Santander has two career innings in center field, but Hyde wanted to keep Dwight Smith Jr. and Trey Mancini in the lineup, so with Renato Núñez at designated hitter, Chris Davis at first, and Rio Ruiz at third against a right-hander in Aaron Sanchez, Santander got the nod in center.
“There's challenges, for sure,” Hyde said. “It's going to be a different experience for him.
“I talked to him about it a few weeks ago. We've been doing some stuff out there. You're never going to get experience unless you get thrown out there. The way we are this year and how things are, guys are going to be put in spots to kind of show what they can do. So, Tony's going to get a look out in center.”
Santander has received frequent praise from Hyde for his defense, with several highlight-reel plays in right field and the bat to carry a corner position. His bat would be welcome at a position where the Orioles have frequently gotten good defense, but have had Cedric Mullins, Joey Rickard, Stevie Wilkerson, Keon Broxton and Drew Jackson combine to hit .191 with a .573 OPS in center field.
Around the horn
Right-hander Mike Wright, who was traded to the Seattle Mariners earlier this season after the Orioles designated him for assignment, was designated for assignment a second time by the Mariners Friday. … Outfielder DJ Stewart (ankle) began his rehab assignment at Double-A Bowie on Thursday and walked twice while playing right field. He batted second as the designated hitter Friday.