With their fourth-round selection in the 2018 MLB Draft, the Houston Astros selected Alex McKenna on June 5. Cal Poly’s star center-fielder had his childhood dream become a reality. Following in the footsteps of former Mustangs who have entered the professional ranks, McKenna was Cal Poly baseball’s most highly touted draft prospect this year.
In high school, Mckenna deferred the draft after being selected in the 38th round by the Twins. Instead, he chose to come to Cal Poly in hopes of increasing his draft stock.
During his time here, he accumulated a .323 batting average and a .472 slugging percentage. He added a number of accolades to his profile, including:
- Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American in 2016
- First-team All-Big West Conference selection in 2017, 2018
- Baseball America’s Preseason All-American third team in 2018
- Big West Field Player of the Year 2018
McKenna’s current success pulls from past experience and his strong family core.
Family and faith
McKenna’s parents Joe and Myrna, and his sister Erica are, in some combination, present at almost every Cal Poly baseball game, home or away.
The support dates back to the day Alex first stepped foot on a baseball field, following in the footsteps of his father. The elder McKenna played baseball for Cal State Los Angeles and instilled his own passion and drive in his son.
“My dad is a grip [on a movie set] and the hours for that are super brutal. What he does is very physical and my dad has had cancer three times, so [it is] not good for him, but he makes sacrifices there for my family and for me,” McKenna said. “The way he goes about his business and his life is the way I try to model myself.”
My pops is the most selfless human being ever. I hope one day I can take of him the way he has taken care of me all my life. 🙏🏼
— Alex McKenna (@Alexjmckenna) March 14, 2018
Family sets the standard and faith cements it. In addition to the unending support from his family, Alex also turns to his religion.
but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
— Alex McKenna (@Alexjmckenna) April 12, 2018
“He had the drive to get better at his craft and that propelled him to be where he is at right now,” Lou Santiago, Alex’s coach at Bishop Alemany High School said. “His faith in God [also helped]. He is very spiritual and he comes from a good family that gives him plenty of support. It’s not surprising that he’s at this point where he can live out his dream of being a professional baseball player.”
What it takes
Former Cal Poly outfielder Mitch Haniger went to the Milwaukee Brewers 38th overall in the 2012 draft. He was traded in 2014 and after a two-year stint with the Arizona Diamondbacks, he has been a force to be reckoned with since finding a home with the Seattle Mariners. Leading the team in home runs, RBIs and slugging percentage, he is very familiar with the journey Alex is about to embark on.
“It takes a lot of hard work and determination to get to the big leagues,” Haniger said. “As soon as you get drafted, you’re surrounded by hundreds of guys with similar talent level and skill set as you … the ones who make it are the most mentally tough.”
Haniger has seen Alex play before and was impressed.
“I was very impressed with how he handled the bat when I got to see him play,” Haniger said.
While Haniger and Alex come from the same college program and play the same position, their game varies in certain aspects.
“Their make-up is similar but their game is really different,” head Cal Poly baseball coach Larry Lee said.
Both McKenna and Haniger played center field in college, but would be more likely considered corner outfielders at the major league level. In addition, both are naturally powerful hitters, according to Lee.
What the future holds
Alex, along with another Mustang, Nick Meyer, were ranked in the top 200 MLB Draft Prospects as 97th and 167th respectively. Meyer got picked up by the New York Mets in the sixth round at 170th overall. With their selections, coach Larry Lee has put 68 players into the majors and 30 have been drafted the top 10 rounds.
Having the right mindset is a large part of the battle of moving up the ranks in the MLB. Luckily, Alex is prepared for that challenge.
“There are going to be days when you feel really good and feel like you got better, but there’s also going to be days where you feel like you didn’t perform that well or didn’t do that much to make yourself better that day,” McKenna said. “Understanding that as an athlete is huge, and that’s kind of why I’ve been able to grow into what I am right now, and that is the mindset I’m going to take into the next level, too.”
Alex’s parents, said they are proud of him and look forward to what his future holds.
“All [his] hard work paid off…” Joe said. “I couldn’t be more proud of [him].”
The journey ahead is a long one but the future is bright for Alex.
“Alex is a very fun player to watch and I’m very excited to follow him while he makes his way up to the big leagues,” Haniger said.