#8 IBI 2020 Prospect Triston McKenzie scouting report Podcast: McKenzie Day – A conversation with Captains broadcaster Andrew Luftglass on McKenzie’s time in Lake County and the Indians pitching development […]
When Triston McKenzie was taken by the Indians in the supplemental part of the first round of the 2015 draft (42nd overall), he wasn’t as big of a story as a first round pick normally would be as Brady Aiken’s second first round selection was the primary headline. As Aiken was recovering from Tommy John surgery, however, McKenzie quickly became the top prospect not only from the 2015 draft, but in the Indians farm system as a whole.
He began his professional career in 2015 with the Arizona League Indians where the Indians were incredibly cautious, limiting him to four appearances, all four innings or less. Despite this small sample size, he showcased his great command and swing and miss ability, striking out 17 to three walks in 12 innings while allowing just four hits and one run.
After beginning 2016 in extended spring training, McKenzie opened the official season with Mahoning Valley. There, he opened his season with a 0.28 ERA, .193/.279/.257 batting line, 34 K and 12 BB across 31.2 innings and six starts. When he was regularly going six innings per start, the Indians promoted McKenzie to Lake County where, in his debut, he struck out 11 in five innings without a walk. While he wasn’t quite as effective there, he was only 18 years old, nearly four years younger than the average A baller.
The 2017 season would be McKenzie’s first full season with a team as he threw 143 innings with the Lynchburg Hillcats. There, he extended himself to a peak of seven innings and had his best career game, a six inning, 14 K, one walk, one hit, shut out effort against the Carolina Mudcats on May 9th. He finished the season with a 3.46 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 186 strike outs and 45 walks in 25 starts.
By this point, McKenzie was universally considered a top five Indians prospect and a top 50 prospect in all of baseball. Unfortunately, it was here that his career took a turn. Dealing with right arm pain, he hit the injured reserve to begin 2018. He recovered without surgery and began his season the first week of June with the Rubberducks where he quickly became their top starter, beginning with a shut out in his 2018 debut. He didn’t miss a start for the rest of the year and only pitched fewer than five innings in one start (he went 4.2). He was particularly dominant to end the season, posting a 2.09 ERA, .177/.255/.320 line against and 65 strike outs in 64.2 innings across his final 11 starts.
Just when it looked like he was ready to hit AAA, McKenzie had another setback. Dealing again with arm/shoulder issues, he never pitched after spring training in the 2019 season. Following the season, he was added to the 40 man roster to protect from being taken in the rule 5 draft and he joined the Major League club in spring training in 2020. While he worked out with the team, he never made it into an official game before the season was prematurely shut down. Instead, he was optioned to the alternate training site in Lake County where he has been pitching regularly and in full health all season.
Ready for the big leagues, he has been biding his time there until the demotions of Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac opened up a couple spots in the rotation. Now, McKenzie is slated to make his debut on August 22nd against the Tigers just five years after being drafted out of Royal Palm Beach High School. Despite being drafted earlier than Indians pitchers Shane Bieber, Aaron Civale (both 2016) and James Karinchak (2017), McKenzie is the youngest player on the Indians 40 man roster at 23 years old.
McKenzie has been an extremely interesting player throughout his minor league career largely because of his extremes. As a 17 year old when drafted, he has always been on the extreme young end of every team he’s pitched for. At 6’5″ 165 lbs, he’s stuck out as well as both the tallest and lightest as well. In fact, he matches Carlos Carrasco as the Indians tallest pitcher and sits just an inch (and 100 pounds) behind Franmil Reyes. His pitches are also extreme as it is very rare to have a combination of speed (mid-90’s), movement and command as is found in McKenzie’s fastball, curve and change (check out the full scouting report here).
There have been many who have questioned McKenzie throughout his career so far due to injury fears and his body type, but he has been nothing but dominant when on the mound. Now, he finally has the chance to prove himself in the big leagues and, with questions surrounding the pair of Indians starters demoted earlier, he could potentially stick around for quite some time.