McNutt among first cuts in Cubs camp

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McNutt among first cuts in Cubs camp

GLENDALE, Ariz. Trey McNutt cleared out his locker on Friday morning at HoHoKam Stadium. He packed his bag as the most high-profile player among the four the Cubs cut and sent down the street to minor-league camp.

Almost no one had heard of McNutt when he fell to the Cubs in the 32nd round of the 2009 draft and signed for a six-figure bonus. The kid from a small town in Alabama made the industry take notice in 2010, going 10-1 with a 2.48 ERA combined at three minor-league stops.

If McNutt had continued along that very fast track, it wouldnt have been out of the question to see him at Wrigley Field when injuries devastated the pitching staff last season, and competing for a rotation spot this spring. But that would have been the most aggressively optimistic timeline, and there were no guarantees.

McNutt had to deal with his own health issues that put him on the disabled twice at Double-A Tennessee a blister problem on his right middle and index fingers and an abdominal strain. Yet he was still the prospect the Boston Red Sox targeted this offseason in the Theo Epstein compensation negotiations.

Everybodys got to go through some type of adversity in their career, so Im kind of glad it happened (already), McNutt said recently. Im not saying something to that extreme happening again. But a little adversity Ive mentally been through it before and I know that I can overcome it and pitch my way out of it.

The Cubs also sent pitcher Marco Carrillo, infielder Jonathan Mota and outfielder Jae-Hoon Ha to minor-league camp, cutting their spring roster to 59 players. At the age of 22, McNutt still has room to grow.

Hes got the stuff, manager Dale Sveum said. Hes got the makeup to be a big-league starter. Hes just got to be more consistent with his breaking ball. Hes got a really good (one). He just has to understand how and when to use it. But hes that kind of kid whos on a mission. He works as hard as anybody.

Its just a matter of going out there and being more consistent on an every-start basis in the minor leagues.

McNutt was philosophical about last year. He had never developed blisters like that before (April), and then he suffered an abdominal strain (June). He accounted for only 95 innings, going 5-6 with a 4.55 ERA.

It was very frustrating, but you go through those things sometimes, McNutt said. There were a lot of mechanical issues, a lot of things that get in your head with so many injuries. You just got to be strong enough to overcome those things. Last year was a really good learning curve and I think Im going to bounce back.

It was just one freaky year. I wasnt walking under any ladders, opening any umbrellas indoors. It wasnt meant to be last year. Things werent going my way.

McNutt rose so fast that it would have been difficult to keep up that momentum. Baseball America ranks him as the No. 5 prospect in the Cubs organization.

The Red Sox thought enough of McNutt to put him at the center of the Epstein compensation dispute that dragged out for months. (The Cubs system is also thin in terms of high-level pitching prospects, which only complicated the matter.)

Instead, it was one of McNutts roommates reliever Chris Carpenter who had to move out of their North Scottsdale condo last month and head to Red Sox camp in Florida.

Im putting last year behind me, McNutt said. Im just trying to work my way up the ladder to get up there someway, somehow.

Joe Maddon’s messaging to Cubs before the 2017 campaign

Joe Maddon’s messaging to Cubs before the 2017 campaign

Joe Maddon's Washington itinerary didn't include an hour-long sit-down with Chuck Todd for NBC's "Meet the Press." There would be no rehashing the manager's Game 7 decisions as he stood outside the West Wing, though the second question during the media stakeout involved "last year's team" and how the 2017 Cubs are prepared to defend a World Series title.

"You're already there, huh?" Maddon said to a CNN reporter, minutes after President Barack Obama's final official White House event ended on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

But last year's team is gone — preserved now in highlight films and the hearts and minds of generations of Cub fans — even if so many familiar faces will be in Mesa when pitchers and catchers officially report to Arizona on Valentine's Day.

It would be impossible to replicate everything that made the 2016 Cubs so special. Baseball has its own relentless pace and the dynamics are constantly shifting. (Remember when players were passive-aggressively complaining about Maddon's spring-training approach during the final week of a 103-win regular season?) The clubhouse chemistry will inevitably feel different after climbing a Mount Everest of professional sports.

"A mind once stretched has a very difficult time going back to its original form," Maddon said. "We're motivated by it. We want to do it again, of course. There's no question we're trying to do that.

"I'm really leaning on the phrase or the thought of being uncomfortable. I want us to be uncomfortable. I think the moment you get into your comfort zone after having such a significant moment in your life like that, the threat is that you're going to stop growing.

"So I really want us to be uncomfortable. I really want to continue (to see) a pattern of growth and really try to get at them very quickly again."

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Can Jason Heyward recover from one of the worst offensive seasons in the majors last year? Is Willson Contreras ready to be a frontline catcher? Will Javier Baez have to adjust back to being a role player after becoming a playoff superstar? Does Kyle Schwarber in the leadoff spot and Albert Almora Jr. and Jon Jay in a center-field timeshare represent an upgrade over Dexter Fowler?

If healthy, Wade Davis should be a trusted, lower-maintenance closer than Aroldis Chapman, with an advanced approach to pitching and more clubhouse presence. As a staff, the Cubs will have to bounce back from pitching into early November (or not, in the case of the relievers Maddon didn't trust during the playoffs).

As it stands, Jon Lester (33) and John Lackey (38) have already combined to throw almost 5,000 innings in The Show (including the postseason). Jake Arrieta will have to deal with the pressure of playing for his megadeal in his final season before becoming a free agent.

The drop-off after Mike Montgomery — and it's still mostly projected potential with the No. 5 starter — appears to be very steep in an organization that doesn't have any high-end pitching prospects in the upper levels of the farm system.

After painting the bull's-eye on the chest and turning "Embrace The Target" and "Try Not To Suck" into viral T-shirts, a guy who hates meetings is still working on his themes for this campaign.

"I'm really rotating around the thought of authenticity," Maddon said. "I talked about it a lot last year, the fact that I think authenticity has a chance to repeat itself without even trying. It's part of who you are. It's not fabricated. It's real.

"I've talked about our guys a lot the last couple years. I think one of our strongest qualities is the authentic component of our players. So I'm really focusing on that word right now. Again, that's a great word to bring an entire message from (when) you get in front of the group that first day in spring training.

"I kind of just think like authenticity happens. And let's work it from there."

The costumes should be in midseason form with Maddon planning a house party around Tampa's Gasparilla Pirate Festival before driving his RV from Florida to Arizona.

Maddon will turn 63 on Feb. 8 and have to keep evolving, just like his players, who might outgrow some of those gimmicks. But the Cubs are still a reflection of their future Hall of Fame manager.

Amid all the uncertainty in Washington, Maddon wouldn't touch a question about what advice he would give Donald Trump before Friday's inauguration.

"I'm not even going to go anywhere close to that," Maddon said. "I will say this: I have a lot of respect of the office.

"At the end of the day, just have a lot of respect for the office, regardless of your political persuasion. My point would be to encourage people to really respect the office and let's see what we get done here over the next four years."

CSN Chicago will live stream Cubs, White Sox games in 2017

CSN Chicago will live stream Cubs, White Sox games in 2017

CSN will live stream Cubs and White Sox games plus pre and postgame shows throughout the 2017 season.

This is thrilling news for all Chicago baseball fans and comes at an absolutely perfect time for a Cubs fanbase that will spend the rest of the year reveling in the 2016 World Series championship.

White Sox fans will also gain more opportunities to get up-close looks at the future as the South Siders continue on with their rebuild.

Both teams and the pre and post shows will be streamed on CSNChicago.com and the NBC Sports app.

CSN already streams Bulls and Blackhawks games and pre/post shows.

"We are thrilled to launch live streaming of our Chicago White Sox and Cubs telecasts beginning this MLB season," said Phil Bedella, Vice President/General Manager of CSN Chicago. "With live streaming currently offered for our Bulls and Blackhawks telecasts, the addition of MLB streaming further illustrates our commitment to provide our viewers with the most in-depth and compelling Cubs and White Sox content in and out of the home and on any device."

The complete CSN broadcasting schedules for Cubs and White Sox telecasts will be released over the next couple weeks.

"We are very pleased that our partners at CSN will be able to provide fans with the opportunity to watch the White Sox anywhere," White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said. "Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for fans to watch their White Sox, regardless of where they are or what they are doing.  Sports fans deserve to see all the action all season long."

"After such a historic season, we are thrilled Cubs fans will be able to stream games on their choice of device, either inside or outside the home," Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney said. "This access has been years in the making for our fans, but the timing is awfully good given the excitement around the 2017 campaign."

For more information, check out the complete press release.