Cleveland Indians: Triston McKenzie, Harold Ramirez part of long-term solution
When the roster expanded to 28 players at the beginning of the month the Cleveland Indians used the two extra spots to activate starting pitcher Triston McKenzie and outfield Harold Ramírez from the 10-day injured list. Both McKenzie and Ramirez have spent significant time on the big league roster this season. McKenzie at 24-years old debuted with the team last year, and Ramírez at 27-years old, is getting his first action with the team just this season.
So far, both players look to have the makings of a varsity athlete (Sopranos). McKenzie was drafted in the first round by Cleveland in the 2015 MLB Draft and he has the most upside of the two. Ramirez was signed as an international free agent by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2011, and he was designated for assignment by the Miami Marlins just this past offseason. Now the big question is can either one of these players be part of the long-term future in Cleveland?
McKenzie looked fantastic in the shortened season in 2020, however I believe that the sample size was too small to truly get a legitimate idea of his outlook going forward. In the 2020 season McKenzie tossed 31 innings with 42 strikeouts, a solid ERA of 3.24, and a FIPP of 3.91.
The 2021 season has not been as friendly to him seeing that it has been somewhat of a struggle to find consistency. With an ERA of 4.62, FIPP of 4.6, and his strikeouts per nine dropping from 11.3 to 10.4 along with his walks per nine going up from 2.4 to 4.4, getting his control…well under control.
That is going to be one of the biggest key’s to his success going forward. Despite not having the best numbers, his recent performances have been much better. Everyone knows about the near perfect game he threw on August 16th against the division rival Detroit Tigers. In his last start on September 2nd, McKenzie went six innings and allowed just one run with two hits and six strikeouts.
In fact, his last five starts have shown positive progression as his ERA has dropped from 5.89 to 4.62. He’s pitched 34 innings with 34 strikeouts and an ERA under 2.00. Opponents are hitting with a batting average of .121 during this stretch. This is a great sign for him, and it will be very interesting to see how he finishes this month.
McKenzie is a four-pitch pitcher with a fastball averaging 92 miles per hour, which in today’s game seems odd giving that it feels like everyone throws 98-100 MPH. With that said, some of baseball’s all-time great pitchers did not throw overly hard and had to rely on off speed, breaking balls and location – exactly what McKenzie will need to utilize in order to reach his full potential.
The good news is that his curveball is far and away his best pitch followed by his slider and changeup. When this rotation is fully healthy, I expect that he slots in as a fourth or fifth starter in the Cleveland’s rotation to begin the 2022 campaign and hopefully work his way up the pecking order.
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As for Harold Ramírez, he has now gotten to play half of a season with 80 games. He’s hit six home runs with 31 RBI and a batting average of .266. His on-base percentage is .305 and his OPS is just over .700.
He’s a slightly below-average hitter, but he does rank in the top percentage of the league in max exit velocity (94%), exit velocity (86%), and hard-hit (82%). He has also struck out just 43 times in 274 at-bats, but the problem is he rarely draws walks with just 12.
He can play all three outfield positions, and he’s a slightly above-average defender. Since he’s been recalled he has four hits in 12 at-bats with a double in three games played. The offensive output from the outfield for Cleveland is one of the weakest parts of their team, especially after they traded Eddie Rosario to the Atlanta Braves.
Ramírez will have an interesting case to make the roster next season. He would definitely benefit from a strong September to inspire confidence in club evaluators. The opportunity is there for him, but will he be able to take advantage of it down the stretch?
Being 9.5 games out of the division and 8.5 in the Wild Card, Cleveland is very much looking towards next year. This next month will loom large for both McKenzie and Ramírez.