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What scouts think of Triston McKenzie

Time to see what the experts think of the Indians’ lanky, long-limbed starting pitcher

Detroit Tigers v Cleveland Indians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Former Indians top right-handed prospect and current LGT No. 3 prospect Triston McKenzie, 23, will be making his major league debut tonight against the Detroit Tigers.

Now, most readers here at Let’s Go Tribe are pretty big fans of McKenzie, or they were before injuries sidelined him the last two seasons, but what do those who are paid to take a professional look at young talent think of him?

Let’s get started with earlier in his minor league career. McKenzie was a first round (42nd overall) competitive balance round pick by the Indians in the 2015 draft, so he entered his professional baseball career with a pretty high profile. Here’s what scouts have had to say about him from the time he was drafted to present day:

Indians Director of Amateur Scouting Brad Grant - (June. 2015)

Standing 6-foot-5, the 160-pound hurler out of Royal Palm Beach High School in Florida, posted a 0.79 ERA and struck out 157 batters in 91 innings as a senior.

“He’s got a lot of upside to him,” Grant said. “It’s a tall, thin frame, but what we like with Triston is a fastball that’s up to 93. He’s another one that can spin a curveball, a guy with a good feel for a change. Triston as well throws a lot of strikes and has a very good delivery.”

McKenzie soared through the Indians minor league system, garnering Carolina League Pitcher of the Year honors at High-A Lynchburg in 2017. Here’s what Baseball America had to say about him at the time.

Baseball America (2017)

“McKenzie stands out as much for his pitchability as for his stuff. He earns praise for his makeup and understanding of his craft. That, along with his control, helps his stuff play up even more. His fastball can get up to 95 mph, but he more typically works in the low 90s. More strength would help him maintain his velocity deeper into games. He uses his height to his advantage and pitches down in the zone. He gets good depth on his curveball, which is a swing-and-miss offering. His changeup lags behind his other two pitches but has the potential to be an above-average offering as he gets more comfortable throwing it Improving his changeup and getting stronger so that he can maintain his velocity deeper into games are his two biggest tasks going forward. McKenzie’s combination of upside and advanced pitchability has many excited about his future.”

Baseball America had extremely high expectations of McKenzie heading into the 2019 season.

Baseball America (2019)

“McKenzie will pitch nearly all of 2019 as a 21-year-old and is speeding toward the big leagues, where he has the upside to be a frontline starter. To this point he hasn’t been challenged much and he has a chance to earn a spot in the big leagues in 2019. But with Cleveland’s crowded big league rotation, the Indians can afford to let McKenzie force the issue with a strong showing in the upper levels of the minors.”

Unfortunately, injuries have slowed McKenzie’s meteoric rise. He missed half of the 2018 season with forearm soreness, then missed all of 2019 with an upper back strain that wouldn’t heal. Finally healthy, his start this season was delayed due to the cancellation of the 2020 minor league season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He has never pitched beyond Double-A.

MLB Pipeline currently has McKenzie listed as the No. 9 Cleveland Indians prospect. Here’s what it had to say about him in its 2020 profile:

MLB Pipeline (2020)

“When healthy, McKenzie has a fine three-pitch mix that begins with a 91-95 mph fastball that plays well above its velocity thanks to his command, extension, angle and high spin rate. His upper-70s curveball also grades as a plus offering with good shape and spin. He keeps left-handers at bay with a solid fading changeup.

As promising as his stuff is, McKenzie’s feel for pitching is even more impressive. Though he’s still growing into his super-skinny frame, he repeats his delivery well and provides quality strike after quality strike. He must add strength and prove he can handle a starter’s workload, and more muscle could mean more velocity as well.”

FanGraphs ranked McKenzie as the Tribe’s 10th overall prospect in their preseason rankings. Here’s some of what Eric Longehagen had to say about him:

FanGraphs (2020)

In the five years since he was drafted, McKenzie has added five pounds of reported weight (he was listed at 160 on draft day, and is now 165); his fastball, at peak, was 90-93, touching 95 (88-92 in high school) and was 90-94 in camp this spring before the shutdown. The way his delivery and fastball work — it’s deceptive, creates flat angle at the top of the zone, and really carries — makes me think it’ll play at that velocity, and the same is true of McKenzie’s curveball, which has good depth despite bad spin rates. He needs to find a third pitch, and hasn’t really had a chance to do that for two years because of the injuries. At this point, I think it’s more likely to be a slider/cutter than a changeup, which I think would be further along now if it were going to work.

As it stands, health and durability seem to be the biggest limiting factors for McKenzie’s success. The Detroit Tigers are the perfect foil for him to make his MLB debut, having lost nine of their last 10 games. It’s time to see what this young man is capable of.