CLEVELAND -- If there’s anything Indians prospect Triston McKenzie has learned over the past year and a half, it’s patience.
Entering last season, McKenzie was the Tribe’s top prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, but had to watch his ranking drop to No. 9 after missing an entire season due to injuries. He suffered an upper back strain at the end of Spring Training in 2019 and later sustained a pectoral strain that kept him out for the remainder of the season.
In February, he returned to Spring Training with an invitation to big league camp. The Tribe eased him into bullpens and live batting practice and chose not to put him on the mound in a Major League game. But just as he was sent to the Minor League side to get some starts under his belt, Spring Training was put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.
On Wednesday, McKenzie explained what the past 20 months without competing have been like and how he’s preparing for his eventual return to the mound.
MLB.com: What are you doing to work out and stay in shape?
McKenzie: Most of it’s easy baseball-wise because my brother is also home. He came home from college. He was at Vanderbilt and his roommate also came home with him and his roommate’s a catcher. So, I have a catcher setup, if I ever need anyone to throw with, I have two baseball-playing guys, my dad’s here, so I’m pretty set in that regard. It’s just a lot of turning my wheels.
MLB.com: Does it feel like it’s been such a long time since you’ve played in a game?
McKenzie: I also think that the fact that I didn’t get to throw in a game at Spring Training at all kind of adds to that, too, because I was super excited to do that coming into this spring and I didn’t get to do that there. So I haven’t gotten in a game officially since August of 2018.
MLB.com: Has it been hard to stay patient through everything you’ve had to endure?
McKenzie: I mean, that patience thing, not really. I think the harder thing right now is just kind of staying mentally engaged when there’s no baseball around you going on.
MLB.com: How do you overcome that?
McKenzie: It helps having a lot of people that are players near me. They’re trying to stay in shape just in case summer ball doesn’t get postponed for them, just like I’m trying to stay in shape just in case baseball comes back. But just the fact that I can’t go on MLB and look at some big leaguers playing and think, ‘Oh, I might be there in a short amount of time,’ because everything is kind of up in the air and nobody knows.
MLB.com: What’s been more challenging: Being hurt while play is going on and you have a long timeline that you’re following to get back into playing or being healthy but not having an idea of when you’ll get back on the field?
McKenzie: I’d definitely say this is more challenging. Even though you’re hurt, there’s always something to look forward to. There’s steps and goals in terms of I haven’t been throwing for a couple weeks now and I’m going to start throwing or doing exercises in terms of the rehab process. There’s stuff that you can go through and help you be goal-oriented that helps you feel like you’re accomplishing something. You’re not spinning your wheels. Whereas now, we’re doing stuff and we feel like we’re getting ready, but at the same time, we never know what we’re supposed to be ready for.
MLB.com: What are you doing in your spare time?
McKenzie: Well, to get my MLB fix, I’ve been playing a lot of MLB The Show. … Lake County had [a tournament with] a couple of guys who had been through there. So it was like me (who won the tournament), Juan Hillman, Quentin Holmes, there’s a couple names in there. It helped for us to connect and stuff like that.
MLB.com: Have you watched any of the MLB The Show Players’ League? Carlos Santana is representing the Indians.
McKenzie: I’m starting to think they should’ve let me play.
MLB.com: Have you found any good shows to binge-watch?
McKenzie: I’m currently watching Ozark.
MLB.com: What do you miss most about competing?
McKenzie: Outside of going out there and being able to play baseball and doing what I love to do and going out there and trying to beat the other team and do what I can for my guys, it’s just the road trips and stuff like that. You get to bond with your teammates and guys that maybe you didn’t get to interact with in Spring Training and being with them in a much closer situation, it’s a lot different. Seasons build bonds. Playing with guys, going through the ups and downs, it’s different being home right now.
MLB.com: For the Little Leaguers, high schoolers and collegiate players who are waiting for their seasons to return, what advice would you give them to get through the down time?
McKeznie: I think the biggest thing for me, outside of just trying to go outside and get those reps in, is a lot of mental reps. I feel like I think about baseball more than probably a normal person should but even when I’m just laying in my bed, I imagine facing hitters, future hitters or even hitters that I faced previously. I’ve looked at video and went over how I attacked some guys, how I would do it different if I faced him again and I think that helps me. I do that not only now, but I’ve done it in the middle of baseball season and it’s helped me build a plan around how I go about my game.