O.C. Lefty Jake McKenna Signs With Phillies

first_imgBy TIM KELLYAs a lifelong Philadelphia Phillies fan turned aspiring major league pitching prospect, Jake McKenna always dreamed of wearing the Phils’ red pinstripes.On Sunday morning, the dream came true.McKenna, a 6-foot-7-inch, 220-pound lefty and 2020 graduate of Ocean City High School, signed a $20,000 maximum MLB contract for undrafted free agents and will be assigned to the Phils’ rookie league affiliate in Clearwater, Florida.He had spent an anxious Thursday night, hoping to hear his name called among the late fifth round picks in the major league draft. The draft, 31 rounds in 2019, had been shortened to five this year as part of an agreement between MLB and the player’s union and to 20 rounds in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.“When my name wasn’t called, I was really bummed, but not too much because I knew I was still in the mix,” Jake said. “I knew there was still going to be a chance (to sign a pro contract as a free agent).”There had been interest from 22 major league teams prior to the health crisis wiping out his senior season.As the last few picks of the draft were called, Jake was contacted by representatives of the Milwaukee Brewers, Miami Marlins, Kansas City Royals and Phils.“Essentially, they all told us to stay by the phone on Sunday,” his dad Ryan said.“Then at 9 o’clock my phone lit up,” said Jake. Representatives of all four teams called, almost simultaneously.“It came down to the Royals and the Phillies. The money was going to be the same,” his dad said.“They are both outstanding organizations, but the Phillies had the advantage,” he added, citing Philly’s geographic proximity, but mostly for Jake’s chance to play for his favorite team.Jake McKenna, in action during his brief high school career at Ocean City High. (Photo courtesy of Twitter).When he took the Phillies call, “It seemed like a dream. It didn’t seem real,” Jake said.But real, it certainly was.On the other end of the line was Phillies Director of Scouting Brian Barber welcoming Jake to the organization. Next, scout Jeff Zona contacted him with the actual contract, which was offered, signed and returned in pandemic-fighting electronic fashion.McKenna, who had committed to play baseball at St. Joseph’s University, forfeited his NCAA eligibility when he signed the deal.However, his bonus covers four years of tuition, room and board at SJU, a value of more than $250,000, which he can draw upon for online classes, use at another institution, or to learn a trade.St. Joe’s loss is the Phils’ gain, according to Mike Adams, co-owner of the Baseball Performance Center in Pleasantville, where Jake trains.“They are getting a tall left-handed pitcher with speed in the high 80s to low 90s, a good breaking ball, projectable to be a very good (MLB player),” Adams said.Intangibles such as mound demeanor, work ethic, loyalty and family orientation give Jake’s signing additional value, he noted.“He’s one of the hardest and most consistent workers,” Adams said, “and just a great kid — funny, not boastful, and a great personality.”The Red Raiders’ closer in 2019, Jake was ticketed to start in the scholastic season lost to COVID-19.In the previous year, his role translated to limited duty, leading to just 8.1 innings and 191 pitches. Scattered throughout his brief stint was an eye-opening total of 18 strikeouts, and he enjoyed a strong summer season of independent ball.The clincher came this spring, his dad said, at a major scouting showcase in Jupiter, Florida. With pitchers limited to two innings of action, all Jake did was strike out five and get the sixth out on a pop-up.Besides dominating the hitters, the big league scouts marveled at McKenna’s poise in the spotlight.“He is incredibly calm on the mound,” his father said. “I think that’s the main reason he is so good.”Ever since Jupiter, the plan was to go from being a full-time student, part-time athlete to the reverse. The plan became a reality Sunday morning.Which made for a long night and early Sunday morning for Jake, who got, how much sleep? The question brought a chuckle.“Umm, really I don’t think I slept at all.”Jake McKenna tried on the cap of his new baseball organization. (Photo courtesy of McKenna family) Jake McKenna celebrates with his family after signing his first pro contract. From left are dad Ryan, mom Erika and sister Natalie. (Photo courtesy McKenna family)last_img read more