Triston McKenzie joined the Cleveland Indians in 2015 as a supplemental first-round pick out of Royal Palm Beach High School in Florida. The Gumby-like McKenzie (6’5″, 165 pounds) was the 42nd overall pick in that draft and signed for $2,302,500 which was about $800,000 over slot. The 20-year-old right-hander spent all of 2017 at Advanced-A Lynchburg where he dominated and was named the Carolina League Pitcher of the Year. He was also a member of Team USA in the MLB All-Star Futures Game this summer in Miami as one of the top prospects in baseball.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Triston McKenzie may look like a string bean but that hasn’t stopped him from racking up big time strikeout numbers. Not only did McKenzie lead the Carolina Leauge in strikeouts in 2017 (by 40), but his 186 were tops among all Advanced-A pitchers and were the second most in all of the minor leagues. Only Alec Hansen (191) of the Chicago White Sox system had more, and he was three years older than McKenzie!
What’s more amazing, is that not only has McKenzie been able to rack up the strikeouts (his K-rate has consistently been above 10 per nine innings), but he’s shown surprisingly good control. His walk rates have been under 3 per nine innings at every stop so far, which while not close to a Shane Bieber, is very good for a teenager with this kind of strikeout ability. 2017 was his “worst” year for walks and he still walked less than eight-percent of batters he faced.
What may also surprise people is that despite the height and big-time strikeout numbers, McKenzie doesn’t throw a blazing fastball. His fastball actually sits in the low-to-mid 90s, typically around 90-92 and topping out around 95. His delivery is quite clean too and he’s able to use that lanky frame to get enough movement on his fastball to keep hitters off balance. He also throws a plus curveball which can be a true out pitch for him. His changeup as with most young pitchers is still a work in progress but looks average with potential to maybe be more.
There isn’t much downside at this point to McKenzie other than maybe his frame. When drafted it was believed he could build on that 6’5″ frame but to this point, he’s still hasn’t added much to it and there are some concerns about durability going forward. That said, he looked fine throwing 143 innings in the regular season before a brilliant seven-inning shutout performance in the playoffs for the Hillcats, helping lead them to a co-title of the Carolina League.
Where does he go from here?
Triston McKenzie is probably my favorite prospect in the Cleveland Indians system. If this was simply a “Matt Bretz” list he’d have been number one but there are some concerns (however minor) that do keep him second on our list. His upside is almost limitless and he’ll open the 2018 season in Double-A leading the RubberDucks rotation at just 20 years old and won’t turn 21 until August.
The concerns over his size are valid as there aren’t many big leaguers with his height and weight ratio though I’ve always felt he has the potential to be a right-handed version of Chris Sale if he can remain healthy (Sale is 6’6″ and only 180 pounds). The fastball/curveball combo can be lethal and I wouldn’t rule out him being big league ready as soon as 2019. The Indians with their pitching depth could hold him back though but I wouldn’t be shocked int he slightest if he dominates the Eastern League and sees Triple-A Columbus at some point in 2018.
McKenzie is the one true “Ace” in the Tribe’s system that’s thin on upper-level pitching. He’s more than deserving of all the top 50 prospect praise he’s gotten this winter and he’s clearly the best pitching prospect in the system and a top two overall. He’s not quite as big league ready as Francisco Mejia, but the ceiling may actually be higher…which is scary fun for Tribe fans.