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When the 2021 season began, Ryan McKenna was at the Orioles’ alternate site at Bowie, getting ready for his first season at Triple-A Norfolk. McKenna was supposed to play Triple-A during 2020, but without minor league ball, he had no real games.
McKenna spent the 2020 season at the alternate site and got to take some road trips with the Orioles as part of their taxi squad and looked to be a spare part of the ’21 outfield.
When this past season began, the focus was on how manager Brandon Hyde would get playing time for Austin Hays, Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander and DJ Stewart.
Injuries to Hays and Santander and moving Mountcastle to first base and designated hitter meant that there was no longer an outfield surplus.
McKenna, who traveled with the Orioles on their first road trip to Boston and New York, was activated for the first of seven stints with the team on April 5th after Hays injured his hamstring at Fenway Park.
Instead of spending his first season at Triple-A, McKenna ended up playing 90 games with the Orioles and just 27 with the Tides.
McKenna was getting ready to return to the alternate site on April 20th after Hays had been activated, but Santander sprained his left ankle early in the Orioles’ game in Miami, and McKenna was recalled without having left.
A week later, he was sent down only to return on May 9th. His longest stints in the minors came in June when he missed 17 Oriole games and in mid-August when he didn’t play in 13.
The time at Norfolk was put to good use. McKenna, who had hit .377 in a half season at High-A Frederick in 2018 before struggling at Double-A Bowie in 2018 and 2019, hit a .307 with a 1.106 OPS.
In those 27 games, McKenna hit 11 home runs, had 23 RBIs and stole seven bases in 10 attempts.
His numbers with the Orioles weren’t as good. McKenna, who had starts in each of the three outfield positions, hit .183 with two home runs and 14 RBIs. He did walk 24 times, and his on-base percentage was .292.
McKenna was often used as a defensive replacement and pinch-ran 17 times. He tried to steal only once and was successful.
McKenna was a useful fourth outfielder, but if Hays, Mullins, Santander and Stewart return, the Orioles would have to keep five for him to have a place.
Jorge Mateo, who is also a skilled pinch-runner, can play the outfield as well as the infield.
In 2022, the Orioles could finally promote Yusniel Diaz, a teammate of McKenna in the minors, if his health and performance permit. Kyle Stowers, who rose from High-A Aberdeen to Triple-A Norfolk in 2021, also could get a look.
Diaz or Stowers might not find a comfortable fit as a reserve or pinch-runner, but the Orioles have more invested in them than they do McKenna, who was their fourth-round pick in 2015, the same year Stewart and Mountcastle were their first two selections.
The Orioles’ outfield is their strength and, with more prospects on the way, McKenna will have to hit to secure a spot. He can back Mullins in center field, but so can Hays. He can run well, but so can Hays.
If the Orioles decide to move on from Santander or Stewart, McKenna could benefit, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the Orioles pursued a veteran outfielder when the lockout ends.
A step back? After no in-person interviews during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, last year brought some sense of normalcy. Beginning in June, Hyde met with the press on the field before home games and in-person, one-on-one interviews were arranged by request to media members who were fully vaccinated.
This fall, the NFL, NBA and NHL teams didn’t open their locker rooms, but did have in-person pregame and postgame media sessions in interview rooms.
With the Omicron variant raging, games in the three leagues have been postponed and on Monday, the Ravens began conducting their press availability by Zoom.
The health and safety protocols for 2022 must be negotiated between the players and Major League Baseball, and media access in normal times is always part of the negotiation.
It was hoped that come spring training 2022, open clubhouses would return, at least for fully vaccinated media members, but that’s looking questionable if not doubtful.
There is no substitute for in-person sessions, but the combination of a testy negotiation for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement and health concerns might make open clubhouses less of a priority.
Players, especially those who aren’t stars, benefit from more access. We get to know them better and more coverage can lead to post-playing careers in baseball and in the media.
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