Alex McKenney of the University of Maine is shown pitching against Albany during a 2021 series at Orono. He is now pitching in the Philadelphia Phillies organization for their Class A minor league team. Credit: Tyler Neville / UMaine Athletics

With a season of minor league baseball under his belt, former Hampden Academy and University of Maine pitcher Alex McKenney is hoping to move up the ladder in the Philadelphia Phillies organization.

The 22-year-old McKenney signed a free agent contract with the Phillies after a productive spring at UMaine in which he earned two America East Pitcher of the Week honors and a berth on the All-America East Tournament team.

He is in Clearwater, Florida, with the Phillies minor leaguers now after pitching for their low Class A team there last season.

He appeared in nine games for Clearwater and was 2-1 with a sparking 1.56 earned-run average last season. He struck out 17 in 17 ⅓ innings and allowed 10 hits but no home runs. He hit 10 batters and threw six wild pitches.

“The big thing I worked on all fall was my slider,” McKenney said. “I want to be able to throw a big, sweeping slider. It has come a long way. I am going to keep throwing my fastball and splitter. I’d like to make my splitter an elite pitch. I am going to be a three-piutch guy.”

His fastball is clocked in the low to mid 90 mph range and he said it is “well above-average” in horizontal movement.

He worked at the The Edge Academy indoor sports facility in Portland during the offseason and also worked out at Skolfield Sports Performance in Saco where he focused on improving his explosiveness, hip angle and shoulder strength.

“I tried to gain mobility in different areas of my body,” he said. “I want to become a better baseball player.”

McKenney also spent time in New Jersey with Mike Adams from the Phillies organization at a baseball performance facility.

“I went down there to be evaluated and I kept in touch with him,” said the 6-foot-4, 240-pound McKenney.

McKenney, who underwent Tommy John surgery his freshman year at UMaine and sat out the 2019 season, was 4-6 last spring for the Black Bears with a 3.67 ERA. He struck out 43 and walked 23 in 56 ⅓ innings and allowed only one home run.

McKenney would like to start the season in a higher Class A league than the one he was in a year ago but said he can’t worry about it.

“I can’t speculate on where I’m going to be because everything is new to me. I just have to try to pitch to the best of my ability wherever they put me,” said McKenney, who doesn’t want to lose his focus while being consumed with moving up the minor league chain.

“You have to perform well at whatever level you’re at if you are going to move up.’