Way back in 2009, Kyle McKenzie was a right-handed pitcher at Thayer Academy in Massachusetts and was quite highly regarded. A 6’0″, 175 right-hander, McKenzie touched as high as 94 MPH with his fastball to go along with a sharp 11-to-5 curveball and a changeup that also showed potential. Baseball America actually compared him to Rays right-hander Brandon Gomes, then at Double-A in the San Diego Padres system. However, teams worried about McKenzie’s willingness to forego his commitment to Tulane and he slipped all the way to the New York Yankees in the 30th round. Predictably, he did not sign and did indeed join the Green Wave’s squad. It was only this year, though, that McKenzie got to hear his name called once again. Five tumultuous years at Tulane have changed everything for Kyle McKenzie, and he will enter pro ball trying to make up for lost time and opportunities missed.
After a mediocre freshman season in 2010, McKenzie had to redshirt in 2011 because of injury despite getting off to a solid start in the Green Wave’s rotation. When he came back, he was primarily a reliever and one that had difficulty throwing strikes. From 2012 to 2013, McKenzie managed a decent 3.87 ERA but just a 65-50 strikeout to walk ratio in 90.2 innings pitched across 25 relief appearances and 8 starts. But this season, in his fifth and final year of eligibility, McKenzie finally figured everything out. Though he made only 8 appearances, he was dominant within them, managing a 1.30 ERA and a 35-9 strikeout to walk ratio in 27.2 innings pitched. The Rays saw a flicker of McKenzie’s previous promise in those games, and they were willing to take a chance on him with their 20th round selection.
Kyle McKenzie is quite old for this draft class–he will turn 24 in September. He is no longer projectable, weighing in at 200 pounds or 210 pounds depending on what source you choose. There is effort in his delivery, a red flag from before that 2009 draft that led to problems for him in college. With that in mind, McKenzie will be a reliever in the professional ranks, and it will be interesting to see what his velocity is like these days. However, if his three-pitch mix is anything like it was before, McKenzie has the ability to vastly exceed what’s expected of him at this draft spot. The Rays are taking a risk on Kyle McKenzie based on a small sample size and how he was once regarded. However, that is the type of decisions that they needed to make to find upside in the 20th round, and it just might amount to something.