Is it time for the Cleveland Indians to send Triston McKenzie down to Columbus?
Entering the season, Triston McKenzie was listed as the No. 2 prospect in the Cleveland Indians organization behind only Nolan Jones. After quickly exceeding the service time to be on the list, McKenzie is no longer considered a “prospect” of the Cleveland Indians. However, there’s still work to be done on his game and the best place to do it might be with the Columbus Clippers, but do the Tribe have the ability to make such a move?
Through eight appearances now this season, McKenzie has struggled majority of the time on the mound. There have been a few bright spots, but they’ve been few and far between. Normally, his needed growth would come in Triple-A, but given the current state of the Cleveland roster that might not be possible at the moment.
We’ll start with McKenzie’s play on the field before diving into why sending him down isn’t as simple as it sounds. Through eight appearances, seven being starts, during the 2021 season, McKenzie has made it a full five innings just twice and has yet to go beyond that mark. In his seven starts, he’s also allowed one run or fewer just twice as well.
The last two starts for McKenzie have been rough the former first round pick of the Cleveland Indians. In his last start against the Twins he exited after 3.1 innings and in the midst of what would be a nine-run inning for Minnesota. When it was all said and done, six runs were put on his stat line. That start was reminiscent of the one before that in Seattle when he surrendered five runs over 4.1 innings.
While McKenzie has had bright spots, they are shadowed by the lows that has led to him having a 6.89 ERA up to this point in the season. While Terry Francona and company have voiced that with the state of the club players need to learn at the big league, what McKenzie needs fixed might take too much time for it to happen in Cleveland and not shatter McKenzie’s confidence.
After the start against Minnesota, McKenzie has a total of 30 walks, a mark that leads all of Major League Baseball. The worst part is, that’s come in just 31.1 innings and is more walks than he has allowed hits (23). McKenzie’s fewest walks in a game are two, being in his first start of the year, while he’s walked four or more batters in six of his eight appearances for the Cleveland Indians this year.
Obviously there are struggles that McKenzie needs to address, so why hasn’t there been a move made? Why is Francona so stuck on these guys learning at the major league level? Well, if you look at the struggles to find a fifth starter, there aren’t many options at this point.
The Tribe could opt to fill McKenzie’s role with a different in-house prospect, but any move of that nature would probably be spent on filling the fifth spot in the rotation that has struggled just as much as McKenzie. So far, the role has been attempted to be filled by both Logan Allen and Sam Hentges and neither have looked spectacular.
Cleveland could also explore the possibility of signing a player to fill the role of McKenzie, or Hentges for that matter. There doesn’t seem to be any ready prospects at the moment, so a temporary signing might soften the blow and create a bridge to buy time. None of those options would be glamorous signings, but they could help get the job done.
To the same tone, there are always players that could be brought in via trade. It’s no secret that this front office wants to save assets, but these players would require a low enough price that it might be possible. Like the free agents, they aren’t moves that would grab headlines, but they would buy time for the prospects to work on their craft.
Another option that we’ve yet to explore is the idea of moving a bullpen arm into the starting rotation. Cal Quantrill has been in the bullpen since arriving to the Cleveland Indians as part of the Mike Clevinger trade, but some might recall that he came up through the minors as a starter.
During the 2019 season with San Diego, Quantrill started 18 of his 23 appearances. His stat line wasn’t great, but it was better than what we’ve witnessed from McKenzie so far. Plus, he’s had time to grow at the major league level.
It can be understood if Francona wants to keep Quantrill in the bullpen. He’s adapted well to his role and going back on that now could derail his progression. At the same time, there are few options left.
While the solution to buying McKenzie time in the minors to fix a few things is still unknown, the front office of the Cleveland Indians needs to quickly explore all options. McKenzie has potential, there’s no doubt about that, but his struggles aren’t allowing him to get the work he needs to hone his craft. That needs to be done in Columbus, meaning the Tribe now have two spots in the starting rotation up for grabs and seemingly almost no one to call up to fill them.