Moving up three spots, our top right-handed pitcher Triston McKenzie comes in at number 3 on our Cleveland Indians 2017 top prospect countdown.
Who is Triston McKenzie?
Moving up three spots from last season, Triston McKenzie remains our top-rated right-handed pitcher in the Cleveland Indians’ system. He was drafted in the first round (42nd overall) by the Tribe in 2015 out of Royal Palm Beach High School in Florida.
The reft-hander signed for $2,302,500, which was more than $800,000 over slot. He is a tall, lanky 19-year-old who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs just 165 pounds.
The Indians played it safe with the youngster last season, keeping him in extended spring training before sending him out to Short-Season Mahoning Valley in June. However, he didn’t stay there long before getting a promotion to Class-A Lake County in August. He also received several accolades, including being named the pitcher of the year for all Short-Season leagues by Baseball America.
Strengths and Weaknesses
As one might expect given his height, McKenzie has some of the best stuff among starting pitching prospects in the Tribe system. He has a very good fastball that sits in the low 90s and tops out at 96 mph. His best secondary pitch is his curveball, which Baseball America calling it the best in the system.
He does a great job of using his height to get great depth on the pitch and it can be a big swing-and-miss pitch for him. McKenzie also throws a changeup, which has shown promise as a legit third pitch. Most impressively, he has shown very good control and command of all his pitches.
McKenzie used that stuff and command to dominate the New York-Penn League. He posted video game-like numbers including a minuscule 0.55 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, and .178 BAA (batting average against) in nine starts with the Scrappers. He struck out 55 and walked just 16 in 49 1/3 innings.
His strike-to-walk ratio actually improved upon being called up to Lake County as he struck out 49 and walked just six in 34 innings (that’s an 8.2 K-BB ratio). His ERA did jump to 3.18 with the Captains in his six starts but he still posted a 0.97 WHIP.
Related: No. 4, Francisco Mejia
McKenzie does have some red flags in his game, most notably his build. While he makes the most of his height, the lack of bulk on his frame is concerning. There’s some concern he may never be able to add enough strength to be able to handle a full workload of a big league starter.
His velocity can fade in the later innings, which while not uncommon, is something he’ll need to work on. He’ll never be a 200-pound guy but if he can at least get close to say Chris Sale (180 pounds) he could remain a starter.
Where does he go from here?
McKenzie was the most impressive pitcher in the lower minors this past season. He clearly was not challenged enough at Mahoning Valley and made quick work of the hitters in the Midwest League as well. His 2.39 FIP (fielding independent pitching) was the lowest of any Tribe minor leaguer in 2016.
All this while being just 18 years old for the entire season. The Indians will likely challenge McKenzie more in 2017, putting him at Advanced-A Lynchburg to begin the season. It’ll be a big step for him being in his first full season of pro ball.
There was some serious consideration for McKenzie being the number one prospect in the system this season. He was one of four Indians to be named a top 100 prospect in baseball by MLB.com, coming in at number 57. However, the size issue does concern me enough to only put him third. I also want to see him get a full season of work in, which he hopefully will this year.
He’s still several years away from helping the big league club with 2020 likely a best-case scenario, but his ceiling is up there with the best in the system. Like with Francisco Mejia, he has a very good chance of ending up number one on this list come 2018.