Cleveland Indians 2016 Top Prospects: #6 Triston McKenzie

Cleveland Indians 2016 Top Prospects: #6 Triston McKenzie

A young arm with a ton of upside, newly drafted starting pitcher Triston McKenzie comes in at Number 6 on our 2016 Cleveland Indians Top Prospect countdown.

Who is Triston McKenzie?

McKenzie was the Tribes second first-round pick in 2015 (42nd overall), out of Royal Palm Beach High School (Florida). Only 17 years old when drafted, the young right-hander signed for a substantial $2,302,500 (a whopping $834,100 over slot) to forego a strong commitment to Vanderbilt, making him the second consecutive first-round Vanderbilt commit the Tribe took and signed (Justus Sheffield in 2014). McKenzie is a tall, lanky 18-year-old now, standing 6’5” and weighing 165 pounds. He saw some brief action with the Tribe’s Arizona Rookie affiliate in Arizona after signing with the club this past summer.

Strengths and Weaknesses

At this point with McKenzie, projection is the biggest key. He’s got a great frame to build on, something that simply can’t be taught.  He currently sits only in the low 90s (sometimes only the high 80s) with his fastball but can run it up to 93. Again, though, projection is key he should be able to add some velocity as he matures and adds some more meat to that lanky frame of his. He’s also got a two-seam fastball that he’s able to get some good sink to it and hopefully get weak/groundball contact off. 

He compliments his fastballs with a curveball that flashes real plus potential as well as a changeup that should be at least average. That frame of his makes him look very loose and easy on the mound with a solid delivery. He’s a very good athlete for his size as well.  The fear with McKenzie is that despite the size, he’s very thin. Some question just how much he’ll be able to add to his frame, possibly leaving him susceptible to injury in the future.  Also, as with any young pitcher, another slight against McKenzie is his command. While hardly something to be a major concern, he’s still got work to do in this department.

Sample size at the Tribe’s Arizona Rookie level is far too small to draw any conclusions either; however, one can’t help but be excited by the big strikeout rate (12.75 K/9) and walk rate (2.25 BB/9). Even more impressive was the 157 guys McKenzie struck out as a high school senior, all in just 91 innings. It’s those big-time strikeout numbers that stick with me, coupled with that tall, athletic frame of his.

Some may wonder why I have McKenzie ahead of Sheffield at this point. Despite Sheffield being a year older and showing what he’s capable of, I still like the bigger potential upside with McKenzie combined with the body going forward. I just love this draft pick by the Indians as well, continuing a trend of going major upside arms. McKenzie’s bust potential is greater than that of Sheffield or Juan Hillman; however, the reward is some of the highest in the system. It’s one thing that led Fangraphs to rank McKenzie as the third best prospect in the Tribe’s system, in addition to being their top pitcher in the system.

Where Does He Go From Here?

McKenzie is a guy I’m very interested in seeing where the Tribe places him for 2016. He won’t turn 19 until August so no matter what level he pitches at he’ll be one of the youngest at the level. There’s a chance the Tribe holds him back in extended spring training before sending him to Short-Season A-ball in June to compete with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. However, I think the Indians are more likely to be aggressive with him in the same vain as Sheffield, and they’ll have him open with the Class-A Lake County Captains. Also like Sheffield, I don’t expect an in-season promotion with McKenzie. Maybe for a playoff series should the Lynchburg Hillcats make it and not the Captains, but while the Tribe may be aggressive with his first full-season assignment, they’ll likely still take it somewhat slow with him.

While McKenzie isn’t quite as polished as fellow 2015 draftee Hillman, the upside is well beyond that of Hillman, which is saying something considering Hillman has some great potential as well. McKezie is a very high-risk prospect, given his age and body projection, but he’s also a very high reward pitcher. The stuff and potential are plain to see, top of the rotation stuff/size if everything clicks.  Like many of the Tribe’s young arms, McKenzie years away from seeing Cleveland, but he’s a kid you want to follow cause as he matures. At this point I’m not quite ready to put him ahead of Brady Aiken (like Fangraphs did) as I still like Aiken’s potential upside more; however, it would also not completely shock me if in a decade we are talking about McKenzie as being big league ace and one of the best pitchers in the league…