Some scouts believed Jared McKenzie could start a professional career straight out of high school in 2019. But McKenzie had his sights set on attending college instead.
McKenzie, a Texas native, committed to Baylor University as a junior in high school in 2018. With education a high priority for McKenzie, he honored his commitment to Baylor rather than exploring opportunities to jump straight into the pro ranks.
The decision has worked out well for McKenzie over the last 2½ years, as he has developed into one of college baseball’s top players. He also has raised his status as a pro prospect. Scouts project McKenzie as a likely top-two-round pick in the 2022 MLB draft.
“It’s really neat,” said McKenzie on the draft attention. “As time goes on, you realize you are getting closer to that goal that you always dreamed of. I wouldn’t be in this position if it weren’t for my teammates and coaches who have helped to mold me into the player I am right now.”
Over his first two years at Baylor, McKenzie has been extremely productive. He hit .406 with three doubles and five RBIs in 69 at-bats in 16 games in a pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
Last year, the sophomore outfielder was one of college baseball’s top hitters. He posted a .383 batting average with 14 doubles, four triples, 10 home runs and 44 RBIs in 214 at-bats in 51 games.
It’s not necessarily a surprise that McKenzie has produced at the plate in his first two years at Baylor. McKenzie, a 6-foot, 185-pound outfielder, is a well-rounded player whose top tool is his hitting ability.
McKenzie deploys a simple setup at the plate and uses a short, compact swing. He consistently squares up the baseball and drives the ball to all fields. He displayed improved power last season.
“The hit tool definitely,” said McKenzie on his biggest strength. “I know there is always room to work. But my hit tool has always been my biggest focus. I try to go in every day to go in and learn something new on any part of my game.”
McKenzie is athletic and has solid arm strength. He has played all three outfield positions in his career but played all 51 games last season in center field.
While McKenzie deserves the chance to remain in center field long-term, some scouts believe he ultimately ends up in a corner spot. McKenzie hopes to refine his skills to play center field in pro ball.
“Definitely, I can stick in center field,” McKenzie said. “I am the most comfortable in center field because I have played there the most. However, I am confident in any position out there.”
Last year, Baylor missed the NCAA tournament and finished with a 31-20 record. It ended the Bears’ three-year stretch of qualifying for the tournament.
McKenzie will play a key role in Baylor’s success this spring. A year after just missing the NCAA tournament, the Bears should be a contender again this season.
“The talent is there this year,” McKenzie said. “We look like a team. We know we can go out there and win the Big 12. To go out there and do that would be awesome. Of course, we also want to make a regional and play as long as we can.”
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for seven years. He has interviewed 356 of the top draft prospects in that period, including four No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today, MLB.com and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he has appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.