Pitching is finally becoming a strength in the Cleveland Indians organization.
Everyone knows how talented the starting staff is in Cleveland, and some know about a nice collection of depth they have assembled in the upper levels of the system. But few know of some of the potential impact arms on their way in the lower levels of the system. There is a lot to be excited about, and one of those arms to be excited about is right-handed pitcher Triston McKenzie.
McKenzie, 18, is a tall, lanky pitcher towering in at 6-feet-5 and a slim 160 pounds who the Indians selected with their supplemental first round pick in last year’s draft. He has a ton of upside to him with his frame, strike throwing ability, good delivery, a good fastball that already gets into the low 90s, the ability to spin a curveball and good feel for a changeup.
With all of that upside came a big price as the Indians had to woo McKenzie away from his commitment to Vanderbilt with a well over slot bonus of $2.3 million – over $800,000 above slot. That’s a pretty expensive signing for someone not selected in the top 20, but the Indians felt he was worth it.
“He was going to go to Vanderbilt University and go and pitch for one of the premiere college platforms, so in order for him to pass up that opportunity there has to be investment in it [which is why we went over slot with his bonus],” Director of Amateur Scouting Brad Grant told the IBI in July.
McKenzie was excited for the opportunity on draft day, though he did not realize how it would be such a life-changing moment for him.
“It was a very exciting time for me,” McKenzie recalled. “At the moment of it I didn’t really necessarily understand the magnitude of the situation, but now that it is a little further along it has sunk in. I was just kind of in shock. You see the scouts but you don’t really pay attention to them. You go out there and play for yourself, so the fact I was drafted is a blessing.”
Signing a pro contract was something McKenzie never really thought about as college was his main focus.
“I was never focused on pro ball, it just happened,” McKenzie said. “The fact that I was even considered I feel mighty blessed.”
Probably the toughest thing was telling Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin that he would not be coming to Vanderbilt to continue his education and play baseball for them.
“It was definitely a tough call because I wasn’t even thinking of pro ball; I was set on going to school,” McKenzie said. “It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up to go here and play baseball every day. I kind of took the opportunity, and I let him know how big of an opportunity it was for me and my family as well, and he was very understanding to my situation.”
From the time McKenzie signed he pretty much spent the rest of his summer and fall at the player development complex in Arizona. There he was able to get acclimated to the pro game, begin to build the foundation with his routines, work to get bigger and stronger and also start to make some adjustments with his mechanics.
“It was a great experience that I was able to come out here and wake up and play baseball every day,” McKenzie said while he was in Arizona. “That fact that I was out here to get great coaching and instruction every day and they are understanding of whatever your situation is – whether it be your arm is sore one day and they take it light – they help you with everything.”
It was also McKenzie’s first time away from his family for an extended period of time. That is another thing that the complex league helps with as it allows young players a home base from which to do all of their work, play in games and live all while enduring minimal travel in their first year in the organization.
“The first couple of days were hard because you are away from your family and it is your first experience with that,” McKenzie noted. “But after a while you get used to the grind of doing things on your own. You have your parents there still because of technology as I facetimed my mother and called my father and little brother. You are always in constant contact with them.”
McKenzie played some volleyball up until eighth grade, but once he got into high school, baseball was his sole focus. He’s also the first in his family to play sports professionally.
“My parents played minimal sports,” McKenzie said. “My dad played recreational soccer. He never really played the game of baseball; he just watched and learned and taught me everything I know. He taught me how to pitch and taught me my mechanics, and they really haven’t changed since I started pitching.”
With another two months until the start of minor league spring training, McKenzie is focused on continuing his offseason plan of getting bigger and stronger.
“My goal is to succeed,” McKenzie said. “To perform, get stronger and faster. Do everything I can to take myself to the next level. I am going to make sure I am staying in the gym, staying strong and conditioned. All of the right stuff so that I am ready for spring training next year.”