With each start this season, Triston McKenzie is making his case as one of the top pitching prospect in the Minor Leagues.
The Indians' No. 3 prospect was electric once again on Thursday as he fired seven dominant frames, allowing one earned run on two hits, to pace Class A Lynchburg in a 7-1 win over Frederick. McKenzie, MLBPipeline.com's No. 49 overall prospect, struck out 13, one shy of his career high, and walked one before departing the game after 94 pitches (66 strikes).
"He had his three-pitch mix working today and was aggressive with his fastball," Lynchburg pitching coach Rigo Beltran told MiLB.com. "He pitched to all four quadrants and located in very well and elevated with two strikes. When you're able to do that with your fastball and throw your secondary pitches for strikes, that's when the strikeouts are going to rack up."
McKenzie struck out the side twice in the contest and fanned two hitters in five of his seven innings. He retired 14 of the final 15 batters he faced, too, while allowing just one baserunner to reach (via an infield error) from the fourth inning on.
"I've really started to read hitters better," said McKenzie. "I've been able to feel out their tendencies and adjust. I go into every start with a gameplan and modify it and improvise it, if I need to."
The lone run permitted by McKenzie came on a leadoff homer by Austin Hays (Orioles' No. 7 prospect), who added a single in the third inning to account for both of Frederick's hits against the 19-year-old right-hander.
McKenzie's gem netted him his fourth win in 11 starts for Lynchburg. He's posted a Carolina League-leading 84 strikeouts in 64 1/3 innings (11.8 K/9) in that span, with the circuit's second-best ERA (2.51) and WHIP (0.90).
As for Hays, the 2016 third-rounder went 2-for-3 to improve his slash line to .326/.363/.570. The home run, meanwhile, was the 21-year-old outfielder's 12th in 54 games for Frederick.
The rest of the best performances from top prospects Thursday
• No. 8 overall prospect Eloy Jimenez (Cubs' No. 1) filled out the box score as he went 3-for-4 with a two-run homer, three runs scored and a stolen base for Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach. The performance improved the 20-year-old outfielder's average to .313, and he's now hit five homers in 20 games.
MILB Video - Title: Jimenez hits two-run blast - Url: http://www.milb.com/r/video?content_id=1479047083
• No. 10 overall prospect Brendan Rodgers (Rockies' No. 1) extended his hitting streak to 16 with another multi-hit performance for Class A Advanced Lancaster. The 20-year-old shortstop tallied a double in his first at-bat before finishing 2-for-5 with three runs scored in the JetHawks' win over Inland Empire. Rodgers' .387 average is far and away the best in the California League, and he's now collected 65 hits (28 for extra bases) and 37 RBIs in 39 games.
• No. 28 overall prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Blue Jays' No. 1) went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles and three RBIs to lead Class A Lansing past Dayton, 7-3. One of the more impressive hitters in the Minors, the 18-year-old third baseman is batting .344/.429/.505 with 22 extra-base hits and more walks (27) than strikeouts (25) through 51 games in his full-season debut.
• One night removed from his first career multi-homer game (and a career-high six RBIs), No. 35 overall prospectFrancisco Mejia (Indians' No. 2) did it again on Thursday as he connected on two more homers in Double-A Akron's loss against Portland. The 21-year-old switch-hitting backstop has been on fire over his last 10 games, with a .462 average (18-for-39), four home runs and 12 RBIs.
MILB Video - Title: Mejia goes deep again - Url: http://www.milb.com/r/video?content_id=1478377483
"The young man never takes any shortcuts," Akron hitting coach Johnny Narron told MiLB.com Wednesday. "He's always in the cage every single day and he always wants to learn. He's very committed to making the big leagues, and he's putting in the work he needs to be doing every single day to get it done."
• No. 52 overall prospect Alex Verdugo (Dodgers' No. 2) and Willie Calhoun (No. 71 overall, Dodgers' No. 3) accounted for all of Triple-A Oklahoma City's offense in a 6-1 win over Iowa. Verdugo went 3-for-5 with a solo homer, his second, two runs scored and a steal out of the leadoff spot, while Calhoun plated five courtesy of his 11th homer, a three-run shot, an RBI triple and a sacrifice fly.
MILB Video - Title: Verdugo jacks solo shot - Url: http://www.milb.com/r/video?content_id=1478834383
• No. 98 overall prospect Jack Flaherty (Cardinals' No. 5) was dominant in his second Triple-A start as he allowed two hits over six scoreless innings in a no-decision for Memphis. The 21-year-old righty issued one walk, struck out eight and generated seven ground-ball outs, with 61 of his 99 pitches going for strikes in the outing.
MILB Video - Title: Flaherty records eighth K - Url: http://www.milb.com/r/video?content_id=1478871783
• Mariners No. 3 prospect Nick Neidert was a tough-luck loser for Class A Advanced Modesto despite notching a season-high 11 strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings. The 20-year-old righty allowed three earned runs on six hits and recorded another six outs on the ground. He owns a 3.16 ERA through 68 1/3 innings (13 starts) for the Nuts.
• In his best start since joining Double-A Mississippi, Braves No. 10 prospect Luiz Gohara piled up seven strikeouts and allowed just three hits over five scoreless innings in a no-decision against Biloxi. The 20-year-old Brazilian left-hander has fared well in the Southern League so far, posting a 2.38 ERA with 14 strikeouts and a .214 opponents' average in 11 1/3 innings.
• Tigers No. 10 prospect Sandy Baez turned his season around behind six scoreless innings of one-hit ball for Class A Advanced Lakeland. He fanned seven, a season high, and walked one while throwing 59 of 89 pitches for strikes to record his first win in seven starts.
• Astros No. 13 prospect J.D. Davis hit a fourth-inning grand slam and later added a solo shot as he helped power Double-A Corpus Christi past Frisco, 11-6. The 24-year-old third baseman has gone deep five times in his last nine games to push his Texas League-leading total to 16 home runs.
MILB Video - Title: Davis connects for second homer - Url: http://www.milb.com/r/video?content_id=1479180183
• Royals No. 24 prospect Corey Ray went the distance for Double-A Northwest Arkansas en route his second career complete game and first shutout. The 2014 fifth-rounder needed just 88 pitches (60 strikes) to accomplish the feat, as he scattered four hits, struck out four and recorded 13 groundouts in nine innings. Ray lowered his ERA to 4.43 from 5.14 with the performance, and he's now recorded four wins in 12 starts.
MILB Video - Title: Ray finishes shutout game - Url: http://www.milb.com/r/video?content_id=1479008583