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First Impressions: SP Triston McKenzie

Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Triston McKenzie throws in the fifth inning against the Detroit Tigers, August 22, 2020 at Progressive Field.

Written by: Danny Hacker
Follow him on Twitter: @theGREATdanny94
Follow Prospects Worldwide on Twitter: @ProspectsWorldW


Before today, it was already known that Cleveland is a pitching factory, churning out legitimate starter after legitimate starter to rise up to the ranks and pitch the team to many wins. That notion did not waver last night with Triston McKenzie, the latest call up to the Indians, who arguably has some of the highest upside of them all.

Triston McKenzie was drafted by the Indians with the 42nd Overall Pick in the 2015 MLB Draft out of Royal Palm Beach High School and rose his way to being one of the best pitching prospects in the entire sport. However injuries started to pile up on him, something a lot of scouts and evaluators had concerns about in ‘15 and beyond given his very scrawny frame and profile, and as a result he missed a decent bit of 2018 and all of 2019. I have been a big McKenzie fan for quite some time, believing in him reaching his ceiling; that of a front of the rotation starter and despite all the injuries, coming into tonight I still believed he someday can get there, as many people also to continue to cite reliever risk or just a backend guy. Last night, he flat out dominated like an ace.

The Line: 6.0, 1ER, 1R, 2H, 10K, 1BB (1 Home Run) and an overall 41% CSW%

The Pitch Distribution: 80 Total Pitches (56 for Strikes, 70%)

Pitch:Number/%CSW%Avg VeloMax VeloSpin Rate
4 Seam Fastball46 (57%)48%94.5 mph96.5 mph2,432 RPM
Curveball18 (23%)39%80.8 mph83.7 mph2,175 RPM
Changeup9 (11%)33%88.0 mph88.3 mph1,729 RPM
Slider7 (9%)14%87.4 mph88.5 mph2,164 RPM

McKenzie is primarily known for his Fastball/Curveball duo and the former half of that pair sat around 94 mph last night with a spin rate of 2,432 RPM which resulted in a 48% CSW% and 9 strikeouts. Of 46 Fastballs (57% of his total pitches) thrown last night, McKenzie got a whopping 11 whiffs and 11 called strikes. Of the strikeouts, 7 were whiffs and 2 were beautifully painted caught looking. Something that will be talked about a lot in this piece is McKenzie’s plus control/command of his entire arsenal and it absolutely was on show last night as he painted his fastball all over the zone all night. His plus command/control allows him to have such a good feel for the pitch and as a result, Tigers hitters didn’t have much of a chance at hitting it other than a few 95+ mph Hard Hit balls. He throws it with much ease and still remains a plus pitch with good velocity and an above average spin rate.

The later of that combo McKenzie is known for is the Curveball which sat around 80 mph with a spin rate of 2,175 RPM resulting in a 39% CSW%. Of the 18 he threw last night, none were put into play, 4 were swung at, 5 were called strikes and only 2 were fouled off. He commanded the pitch really well last night which is something he has always done again because of his plus command/control and again Tigers hitters had a lot of trouble picking it up and making contact on it because the release point was, for the most part, consistent with the fastball release point (see below) and it often dropped off the table at the last minute. It looked every bit the plus pitch it has been said to be and again his command/control of the pitch further allowed it to be really effective despite an below average spin rate.

McKenzie’s Changeup has always been the pitch with the most questions as it was a below average/average pitch when he was drafted and as he developed with the Indians. Yesterday, for the most part, it looked to be the improved changeup that was being reported out of summer camp however it also was the pitch that was hit by Willi Castro for a home run in the 4th Inning for being left over the heart of the plate. It sat around 88 mph with a 1,729 RPM spin rate which resulted in a 33% CSW%. McKenzie’s plus control/command allows him to have a better feel for the pitch than you would expect due to how average the pitch is but of the 9 times he threw it, 7 were swung at (3 of which where whiffed at) and none were fouled off along with a few hard hit balls potentially meaning that hitters had an eye for it despite a consistent release point like all of McKenzie’s other pitches and a 33% CSW%. It’s a pitch McKenzie will definitely have to keep improving on if he wants to fully reach his ceiling of being a front of the rotation starter.

Finally McKenzie added a Slider since the last time he threw a professional outing in 2018 and it looked really good early on, getting Miguel Cabrera to swing and miss for his first career strikeout. The other 6 times he threw it (7 in total), 2 were fouled off and the others were balls. The pitch, overall, sat around 87.4 mph with a spin rate of 2,164 RPM which resulted in a 14% CSW%. McKenzie seemed to have some good feel to it despite the limited use and it had some good movement on it. It remains to be seen how confident he is in it but throwing it 0-2 to Miggy seems to be a good start. Even if the Changeup lacks in the development department and the Slider continues to grow, McKenzie could go with a FB/CB/SL three pitch mix with the CH behind all three which takes some pressure off of him just being a two pitch pitcher down the road.

McKenzie’s reputation as a strike thrower preceded him coming into yesterday with nobody really knowing what to expect out of him after not throwing in legitimate game action since 2018. What resulted was exactly what he has done all along; 56 of 80 pitches for strikes which is a 70% Strike%. He had no fear throwing strikes last night and kept hitters off balance with his filthy stuff and froze them all night long, painting the corners all night as said above. Two of his 10 strikeouts were caught looking and they are both gorgeous pitches (see below) and he only walked one on a 3-1 count in the 2nd inning. After the 2nd inning, he never got into a 3 ball count again for the rest of the night. As explicitly stated above throughout, McKenzie’s plus command/control allowed the entire outing to happened and it was really great to see after being out of “game action” for so long.

All in all, McKenzie flat out dominated in his major league debut and along the way made some Indians and MLB history. His 10 strikeouts are the 2nd most by an Indians Pitcher in his debut (11 is the record) and by striking out 10+ and allowing 3 or fewer base runners made him only the 5th pitcher in the Modern Era to do that and the first since Freddy Peralta of the Brewers.

I believe Triston McKenzie will ultimately reach his front of the rotation upside that once made him one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball which I know is really bold but I still believe in him. Ultimately, like any prospect/player, health is a huge factor but especially for someone like McKenzie who has a history of them. Last night was clearing the first major hurdle of him getting to that point and he showed no problems skipping AAA to start in the pros. Cleveland, Ohio is a pitching factory and Triston McKenzie is the next great product of it, possibly sending one or even two guys out of town -looking eye emoji-.

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