3. Triston McKenzie – Right-handed Pitcher
Born: 08/02/1997 – Height: 6’5” – Weight: 165 – Bats: Right – Throws: Right
Facts & Info: McKenzie was selected by the Indians in the 1st round (competitive balance pick) of the 2015 Draft out of Royal Palm Beach High School (FL). He had a commitment to attend and play baseball at Vanderbilt University but the Indians wooed him away with a $2.3 million signing bonus. As a senior in high school he compiled a 9-5 record with a 0.79 ERA in 15 games, and in 91.0 innings racked up 157 strikeouts to just 16 walks. He was a 2015 Perfect Game USA first-team Preseason All-American and led Royal Palm Beach to the Class 7A state tournament for the first time since 2000. He threw five complete games in the tournament and allowed just four runs, three of which came in the team’s state semifinal loss.
Stuff: McKenzie is very polished with some advanced stuff for his age and just relentlessly pounds the zone with his entire arsenal. He features a solid average fastball that comes in at 88-91 MPH and will flash 92-93 MPH at times, and shows some excellent late life with some great tailing action. The effectiveness of his fastball plays up because of the outstanding movement he gets with it, how well he commands it to both sides of the plate, his ability to locate it and move it in an out of the zone, how well he consistently locates it to the bottom of the zone and how well he avoids mistakes on the heart of the plate. He really showed a big velocity spike between his junior and senior year of high school where he gained 10 MPH on his fastball, and though he didn’t see much of a bump at all in velocity last season the Indians believe that his average and top end velocity will improve by a MPH or two as he matures and fills out his frame, which could push it to plus territory. His best offering may be his outstanding plus changeup which complements his fastball well and gives him a very nice one-two punch to keep hitters off balance to use both pitches interchangeably to setup and finish them off. His changeup is a weapon for him as he shows a great feel for it with some good late fading action, and shows very good separation in velocity from his fastball and does a nice job of creating some deception by repeating the same arm slot, speed and release of his fastball. His developing curveball is coming along and has a chance to be a solid average offering because of his feel to spin it and some good 11/5 shape and depth it shows. He displays an ability to command it and consistently gets some good, hard biting action to it and stays on top of it well.
Delivery & Intangibles: McKenzie has a very tall, wiry frame with wide shoulders and long limbs. He is very slender and doesn’t have a lot of muscle, but he is loaded with athleticism and is very coordinated. He has a good, clean delivery that is mechanically sound which he repeats well for his age, and has some quick, loose arm action from a three-quarter slot. He shows phenomenal pitch efficiency with an exceptional strike rate for his age and is very advanced between the ears – especially with in-game situations. He has a very good feel for setting up hitters as he can use all three pitches in hitter’s counts and can cross-count guys. He shows no fear of contact, trusts his stuff, shows a lot of toughness when he gets in jams and just has a good understanding of who he is as a pitcher. It is his demeanor, intelligence and work ethic which truly separate him mentally from top pitching prospects who have good stuff just like him. He shows an uncanny ability to not be fazed by any situation he is put in and to remain confident, calm and collected to keep himself grounded when things are going great and to keep focused when things are maybe not going so great. He is the dream pitching prospect as he has the mental makeup and drive that the Indians know will work tirelessly to improve, is coachable and willing to make adjustments and has the intelligence and high aptitude to process information and know what he needs to do to get to where everyone believes he can get to down the road.
Focus: McKenzie has really blossomed quickly and is already very advanced with his strike throwing ability and his stuff that the focus right now is mostly on fine tuning things on the mound and also getting him more durable. His very slender frame brings some concern as to whether he can hold up over the course of a long season and throw 200+ innings on a yearly basis. Few pitchers with that kind of build have done it, so the Indians want him to work to add some good weight and get bigger – but in a way where it does not have an impact on what he is doing on the mound. There has to be a balance as they don’t want him to bulk up too much – and there is uncertainty whether he even has the frame to add weight anyway. It is a unique frame and body that is sneaky strong already, so while the Indians will work to get him stronger with a controlled strength and conditioning program, they believe that natural maturation will handle most of his weight and strength gains. His curveball continues to be a work-in-progress for him as it is there at times, but he’s not yet at a point where he has total comfort in using it and he needs to add a little more power to it. The Indians believe that once he gets comfortable with his curveball that he will start to mix it in even more and it will level up his entire arsenal. As he develops the curveball, the Indians want him to get a better feel for mixing in his secondary offerings, how to sequence them against hitters and get a feel for what they are doing in a given at bat so he can do a better job of keeping them unbalanced and not lock in on any one pitch or location. They have also challenged him to command his fastball a little better to the opposite arm side and to be a little quicker to home out of the stretch so he can do a better job of control the running game.
Future: McKenzie opened last season in extended spring training to continue to work on his craft but also to limit his workload as his arm and body were not yet ready for a full season that would require 120-130 innings out of him. Once he made his season debut when Short-A Mahoning Valley got underway in June, he pitched every bit like a top prospect is supposed to pitch. The Indians rewarded his strong showing with a bump to Low-A Lake County in August where he finished the season making six very good starts for them. While quiet, polite and soft spoken off the mound, he pitched like a bully on it holding opposing hitters to just a .195 batting average for the season and had a near 5:1 strikeout to walk ratio as well. Perhaps the most impressive stat was his ability to command the zone (67.0% strikes) and be efficient with his pitches (14.3 pitches per inning) considering the amount of strikeouts he racked up. Even more impressive was how his strike percentage increased going from one level to the next as he threw 65.8% of his pitches for strikes at Mahoning Valley and then threw 68.6% of his pitches for strikes at Lake County. He was a model of consistency never allowing more than three runs in any outing and only allowed more than one run four times – and also racked up as many or more strikeouts as innings pitched in all of his starts but two. The ERA may have been better at Mahoning Valley, but the numbers actually show he pitched better at Lake County as he had a 1.97 FIP there versus a 2.67 FIP at Mahoning Valley. A lot of that was fueled by his walk rate (2.9 BB/9 at Mahoning Valley, 1.6 BB/9 at Lake County), his strikeout rate (10.0 K/9 at Mahoning Valley, 13.0 K/9 at Lake County) and strikeout to walk ratio (3.44 K/BB at Mahoning Valley, 8.17 K/BB at Lake County). It is that consistency from start to start along with the dominance in most of them which really raised his stock. He was a high round draft pick and high profile guy coming into last season, but as an 18-year rail thin righty there were not many people who expected him to have the year he ended up having at such an early age. The feeling was there would be some development needed and he would need to get stronger first, but he hit the ground running and has imprinted himself as one of the elite starting pitching prospects in baseball. With his polish, feel for pitching and deep arsenal he has a chance to be a good number two starter at the big league level and could maybe even be an ace in the making if the fastball velocity jumps some and the curveball comes along. He will open the season with a jump all the way to High-A Lynchburg which will be a good challenge for him and a chance to really solidify status as not just one of the Indians best prospects, but one of the best in all of baseball as well.
Ranking History: #9 (2016)