MLB Draft: A five-tool find in STA's McKenna

Isaac Moore

DOVER, N.H. -- It only takes a second or two to fully understand Ryan McKenna.

It goes without saying, the recent St. Thomas Aquinas High School graduate, is as humble a person as he is a gifted baseball player.

With the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft next week, you can be rest assured the outfielder will be watching with keen interest.

Why, you might ask?

It's simple. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound McKenna is a highly-touted pro prospect, considered by many as the top high school player in New England. His achievements have garnished the attention of a majority of MLB clubs -- all of whom have him listed somewhere on their draft boards. It has been said that McKenna could be chosen between the fifth and eight rounds. Yet other projections have him going as high as the third round. Nobody knows for certain, but it is a safe bet McKenna will be selected.

You might also say McKenna has the best of both worlds working in his favor. Two years ago, while attending a camp at Liberty University, he was offered a 40 percent scholarship by the Division 1 Big South Conference school located in Lynchburg, Va., at which he accepted.

Much of that decision was based on the Judeo-Christian values Liberty adheres to, and McKenna's own religious beliefs. Depending on when he chosen in the draft, McKenna knows a tough awaits him shortly.

"The way we are going about it is, if I am fortunate enough to be drafted Day One then I'm in," he said. "That's the first two rounds. If it comes Day 2 then we will have to see where things fall. It is something I would have to talk about and consider with my advisor and family. But it is a dream of mine to play professional baseball. Hopefully it works out. If not, then I have a great opportunity waiting for me at Liberty."

McKenna is not one to boast about his baseball accomplishments -- of which there are many. You will find no flawed character issues in regards to his overall make-up -- something MLB teams pay close attention to. His personality is genuine salt of the earth through and through. The type of person any parent would want their daughter to marry.

That is the way McKenna has been raised, and it is not likely to change no matter what the future has in store for him.

Having played high school baseball at the varsity level since the seventh grade, McKenna says he never honestly thought about the potential of playing professional baseball until this past summer. Last August, he was chosen to play in the prestigious Area Code Games in Long Beach, Calif. It was there when he first started catching the attention of pro scouts.

"There were a lot of great players there and it showed me that I could keep up with them, said McKenna. "I ended up hitting for average and did pretty well. I truly had a blast there. Garrett Whitley [a projected first round draft selection from Niskayuna, N.Y. and Wake Forest commit] became one of my better friends out there. The pro stuff really didn't come into play for me until the end of last summer. It really hadn't been on me or my family's radar until then. The Area Code Games certainly opened that opportunity up for me."

McKenna made believers out of skeptics during the event as he batted .308 and swiped five bases. In addition, he also performed well during the invitation-only East Coast Pro Showcase in Syracuse, N.Y., a couple of weeks prior to the Area Code Games.

"I think what opened the door for the Area Code Games was the East Coast Pro Showcase," said 16-year St. Thomas Aquinas head baseball coach Marc Schoff. "What really helped Ryan was him having a really solid summer and he had a couple of people who invited him to the Pro Showcase and it was there where he was able to start showcasing his talents."

Schoff went on to say, "I think those types of experiences can be humbling for some kids. You find out in a hurry whether you belong or you don't belong and I think Ryan proved he did belong. What those events allow is for a player to measure themselves against others. I think it gave Ryan a glimpse as to how good he was. But he is so humble a kid and is so natural in what he does, sometimes I don't know if even he realizes just how good he is."

McKenna is a widely regarded as a five-tool player -- a rarity of sorts for high school players from the northeast.

Last season, as a junior with the Saints, McKenna batted .551 and drove in 31 runs. This year, as St. Thomas Aquinas prepares for the upcoming Division 2 postseason tournament, McKenna is hitting .483 and is 6 for 6 in steal attempts. Albeit, those numbers could be much higher had he not suffered a slight hamstring injury a few weeks ago in which he missed five games.

A Berwick, Maine native, McKenna first attended Portsmouth Christian Academy. In his first season back in 2010, he helped PCA win a state championship, and was a teammate of current University of Tampa standout pitcher Connor Andrews. After his freshman year at PCA, McKenna decided to transfer to St. Thomas Aquinas due to its well-noted academic standing and solid baseball program. From a baseball perspective, it was an immediate jump for him moving from Division 4 to Division 2. In McKenna's initial season with the Saints, he led the team in nearly every offensive category.

"Winning a state championship at Portsmouth Christian was a really cool experience," he said. "It was a lot of fun and obviously I've wanted to get back there every year since. Hopefully we will make a run this year."

In 2012, St. Thomas Aquinas won a state crown, one year before McKenna arrived.

"Coming to St. Thomas, it was a bigger school and the baseball program obviously had a very good reputation," said McKenna. "It was a different environment then what I was use to at Portsmouth Christian. I've really enjoyed my time here."

Schoff admits he knew little about McKenna when he first came to St. Thomas Aquinas except for the fact that some area coaches spoke highly of him.

"My first taste was when Ryan showed up in Geometry class and I was his teacher," Schoff recalled. "I just got to know him as an individual. It was about a week into his sophomore year when I got a call from an assistant coach at Boston College saying they had seen him in a local showcase and asked me what I knew about him. I said I hadn't even seen him swing a bat yet. But that sort of gave me a tiny glimpse as to who Ryan was because Boston College doesn't call about sophomores. I had never seen him play but here they were calling me about a 15-year-old kid. Obviously, my antenna immediately went up at that point."

McKenna may not amaze you in stature, as compared to other legitimate prospects. But what he lacks in that category, he certainly makes up for in most other areas. He is a naturally-gifted hitter, with outstanding speed (he runs a 6.55-second 60 yard dash) and is flawless in the field. His throws from the outfield have been clocked in an excess of 90 mph. But it was his hitting that had Liberty, and pro scouts, singing his praises.

"If I see a pitch, I am able to zone it up and get my hands through," McKenna explained. "I think it is how God made me. When I see a Major League hitter swing a bat it's like 'Oh, I can do that.' It's like somebody who is a great pianist and they can just play. I really don't have an honest explanation for it. It is just kind of how it is."

Said Schoff, "His approach at the plate is hands down his biggest attribute. I think that is why so many people are on to him. He was blessed with incredible hand-eye coordination."

A week ago, McKenna attended a special workout put on by Texas Rangers' player personnel directors and scouts in Arlington, Texas. He also performed at a similar one for the San Diego Padres previous. If you look at the various baseball draft publications, McKenna is ranked among the best 160 prospects nation-wide. Major League Baseball has him rated 110. He is ranked No. 158 by Baseball America and Perfect Game lists him 67th. But for McKenna, those are mere numbers.

"I tell him not to be so humble because this is life-changing potentially for him," said Schoff. "There are so many who have had aspirations to go on and play pro baseball and he might be put into that situation in a week. I tell him that he just needs to take it all in."

And what will McKenna's reaction be when he hear his named called at some point next week?

"I think it will finally sink in then and be somewhat overwhelming," he said. "But right now, I am just continuing to play baseball here, get ready for the playoffs and hoping for the best."

McKenna says throughout this past winter, scouts came to his Berwick home to speak with him about the possibilities of playing at the professional level and the life-altering experiences that go with it.

"They just wanted to get to know me a little bit and what type of make-up I had," he said. "They ask me if I wanted to play pro ball and would I be willing to go through the everyday routine that players go through."

Without a hint of hesitancy, McKenna answered those questions with resoundful yes.

To be so unpretentious in the wake of all that has already occurred in his life, you start to understand as to the reason why. Listen to him speak and you quickly realize there is not a speck of imperiousness about him. That trait comes from a highly-supportive and loving family which includes his father Marty Jr., mother Marlene and grandparents Marty Sr. and Sandy McKenna.

"My family has always been there for me and all of the adventures growing up," said McKenna. "All of them have loved me unconditionally. That has been huge for my make-up as a person and also as a baseball player."

Schoff adds, "Ryan's family has been as supportive as anyone I have ever had the pleasure of dealing with. They care deeply about this program, our school and all of our kids. They are just wonderful people and the end result is a tremendous kid who just also happens to have five tools on the baseball field."