Happy New Year!
Today we wrap up our season ending question and answer session with Cleveland Indians rookie level Arizona and Short-A Mahoning Valley pitching coach Mark Allen. If you missed part one, it focused on players such as Brady Aiken, Micah Miniard, Luis Jimenez, Tanner Tully and Randy Valladares. If you missed part two, it focused on players such as Juan Hillman, Shane Bieber, Ben Krauth, Ryan Colegate and Ping-Hsueh Chen.
Onto the Q&A…
Q: Right-handed pitcher Triston McKenzie dominated this year. In 15 combined starts between Mahoning Valley (9 starts) and Low-A Lake County (6 starts) he went 6-5 with a 1.62 ERA (83.1 IP, 58 H, 4 HR, 22 BB, 104 K). What makes him so special?
Mark Allen (MA): I had him last year in Arizona. The key with Triston is he is very advanced between the ears. The kid most likely will be a doctor [when his playing career is over]. He is one that has a very good feel for setting up hitters. He can use all three pitches in hitter’s counts. He can cross-count guys. He is very calm in the midst of battle. He doesn’t get ahead of himself. He is just very advanced mentally when he is in games. He is very consistent with his approach to bullpens and games. It is literally like watching a surgeon operate. It is just kind of the way he is. The thing to it is he has gotten a little bit stronger. Though he is still very slender there has always been some hidden strength in there and there were more 93s and 94s this year. You combine that with an already pretty good stinking changeup and feel for it and a pretty darn good breaking ball and feel for it – then you have something. There is definitely a pilot flying that ship. Every once in a while things can speed up on guys and all of a sudden they become physical and try to out physical hitters by relying on stuff. Well, Triston has always been very good about being smart. The mind controls the body and he does not allow the body or situation to control the mind. That is just where he is. He is just advanced to in-game situations and pitchability. He is just a very smart young man. He knows how to set hitters up and how to knock them down.
Q: With McKenzie’s slender build, is adding strength something that is important for him going forward?
MA: I think you could ask everyone we have in player development and half would say yeah and half would say you just want this guy to be himself. I think that is one of the things with Triston is when you look at him you wonder if he will be durable. The thing about Triston is that long, lanky frame is good so you don’t want to bulk it up too much. Also, is it the kind of frame that you can add weight to anyway? So with him it is going to be a balance. You want him to keep some of who he is while he is developing. To be honest with you, I think the good Lord is going to have more to do with him gaining weight in a timely manner just as much as his ability to gain strength and conditioning himself. It is just a very unique frame and body. Just look at you and I and we have gained weight as we have aged and we haven’t even tried (laughs). It is going to come one way or another. The thing with him is he is sneaky strong already. I don’t think it is a huge concern. He has taken the ball every time and gotten his results. I think just natural maturation will handle it and I know how our strength and conditioning guys are as he has already gained some strength and a little bit of weight. I think as a whole as an organization we feel very confident where he is physically.
Q: Right-hander Aaron Civale had a very nice pro debut making 13 starts for Mahoning Valley and went 0-2 with a 1.67 ERA (37.2 IP, 23 H, 0 HR, 8 BB, 28 K). He mostly pitched out of the bullpen in college but is now being developed as a starting pitcher as a pro. How is that going?
MA: He is pretty good. A good , fun loving kid and good teammate, but when he goes out and hits the mound he really locks in. His ability to focus is pretty impressive. He has a plethora of pitches he throws from a cutter, to a slider to a curveball to a two-seamer and then also with the changeup, he can really spin a baseball. He does have a pretty good delivery and has some starter elements to it. I don’t know, usually with guys that can really spin it that is what they do is they like to spin it a lot, but with Aaron he has a pretty good fastball up to 95 MPH and there may be more velocity in there where he reaches 96 or 97. His ability to spin the ball is impressive, but you also want some things that kind of can go the other way too so that is where he banks on his two-seamer. We are getting a feel for Aaron and how he likes to approach things and trying to get the pitch distribution leveled off where he doesn’t feel like he has to spin it all the time. But he has some swing and miss weapons.
Q: Switch-pitcher Ryan Perez repeated at Mahoning Valley this year and in 28 appearances he went 2-3 with a 5.02 ERA (28.2 IP, 36 H, 3 HR, 14 BB, 20 K). He’s a project and showed some improvement in the numbers, but how is he really progressing as he learns to be consistent with his stuff and mechanics with both arms?
MA: Ryan was really good. Number one is he did a good job with his body as he kept it in shape. If you are using both arms then common sense would be to be twice as in shape. The body is toned up and a complete tribute to him. He was kind of massaging himself back in as he had some arm tenderness. He would always try to balance out his outings, so at times instead of going lefty-lefty he would go righty-lefty just to make sure he got his right arm some reps. It is tough for Ryan to make sure he gets the right amount of reps. We want to make sure that one arm doesn’t get more volume than the other. Being able to do that is going to help him in the end. I had Pat Venditte in the Northwoods League and at an early age he started to matchup. Ryan is starting to do that. The breaking ball is very good. He can add and subtract with it from both arms. The fastball has been pretty good and I want to say he was 88-92 MPH from both sides. He did a good job.
Q: Right-hander Michael Letkewicz surprised with a strong pro debut at Mahoning Valley going 6-0 with a 1.74 ERA in 21 appearances (41.1 IP, 37 H, 0 HR, 18 BB, 24 K). He is a raw arm mined out of South Dakota who is looked at as a project coming into the system, so was his showing a good building block for him?
MA: He is a big, strong kid. He is very muscular. I think moving forward that is going to be a key is flexibility and durability. He is a hard working kid. He is a little quiet but almost a focus kind of quiet, so that is a positive thing. He has been a great teammate. He has a fastball, curveball and changeup. He is a lot like most of the college guys who come in and the changeup is the one pitch that has to come along. He was used out of the bullpen for us. He is a pretty dependable strike thrower, especially when he locates down he can navigate to both sides pretty well. He has a little bit of deception. It is a little different delivery and more like a long toss delivery. It is not your orthodox high leg lift and drop and then stride and drive or whatever, it is kind of get it and go. The curveball can be pretty feisty especially when he is leveraging it down. He is a very interesting guy. He has his own little style which I think is great. He focuses in games and can throw strikes.
Q: Right-hander Henry Martinez is another interesting arm and he made 21 appearances at Mahoning Valley and went 0-3 with a 4.88 ERA (31.1 IP, 39 H, 2 HR, 9 BB, 29 K). He’s someone who is kind of new to the scene, but is someone who I know throws hard. What kind of overview can you give on him?
MA: Henry is a low heartbeat arm strength reliever who can pretty consistently get it up to 96-97 MPH. He just has a lot of flexibility and can coil the arm up and extend it in an explosive manner. He has a good changeup and tapped in recently to a slider-cutter hybrid and has some power to it. That’s his MO. Before that he was a little more of a fastball-changeup guy, so hitters could kind of stay on the fastball and eliminate the changeup, but he has done a better job of getting to more of a three pitch mix. The slider has some teeth to it for sure.