Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011
By Patrick Mooney
MESA, Ariz. Trey McNutt answered his cell phone while raking a sand trap on a Tuscaloosa, Ala., golf course.
By that point McNutt had stopped paying attention to the 2009 draft. He had talked with the Pittsburgh Pirates the day before. They discussed taking him in the 11th or 12th round and signing him for close to 100,000. That sounded fair.
McNutt never heard back from them.
Whatever, he was enrolled to take summer classes at Shelton State Community College. And the country club gig was pretty good. The shift ended around 3 p.m. They let you jump in the pool. You could play nine holes for free.
McNutts mother called that morning from the familys home in Haleyville, which is about 90 minutes northwest of Birmingham. It is a small Alabama town with a population less than 5,000. Word traveled fast: The Cubs had drafted him in the 32nd round.
Incredible Cinderella story: This must have seemed like a scene out of Caddyshack. Right before his lunch break, McNutt quit on the spot: I told my boss: I got to go home. I got some stuff to talk about.
It is the question McNutt gets asked all the time: How did you fall so far?
Thats because the buzz is building around the 6-foot-4-inch, 220-pound right-hander. Baseball America ranked him as the games No. 48 overall prospect on a list released Wednesday.
McNutt has a thick, dark beard that makes him look older than 21. Hes gaining notice for a 2010 season in which he combined to go 10-1 with a 2.48 ERA between Class-A Peoria, Class-A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee.
I flew under the radar, McNutt said. Ive come a long way since then. Everythings starting to come together. (Im) starting to be able to put pitches where I want to.
In the run-up to the draft, McNutt admits that he put too much pressure on himself and started to question how good he really was. At times, he remembers struggling just to get out of the third inning.
As McNutt regained his composure, the Cubs area scout assigned to Shelton State left the organization during the college season. McNutts coach, Bobby Sprowl, had pitched a little in the big leagues and had some contacts.
The Cubs sent two representatives to the Junior College World Series in Grand Junction, Colo., to evaluate McNutt, though he didnt know they were interested.
The Cubs knew of McNutt, but not enough to grab him before the 980th overall pick.
Shame on me, scouting director Tim Wilken said. Sometimes its hard to believe, (but) we didnt really have any background on the guy. (Sometimes) you got to have some good fortune.
Ultimately, McNutt got that six-figure bonus (115,000) he proposed to the Pirates.
From there Mark Riggins then a minor-league coordinator and now the Cubs pitching coach made a few suggestions. McNutt tweaked his arm slot, moved to the left side of the rubber and developed a feel for a changeup. In 144 career minor-league innings, he has struck out 160 hitters while walking only 52.
The education of McNutt has really only just begun. Hes using this time to talk pitching with Kerry Wood and Ryan Dempster and tap into their knowledge.
Thats the upside, he said. Not just to say youre in big-league camp, but to get to learn from the best. I listen to them day in, day out, because theyll help make me a better baseball player.
Kenneth Trey McNutt has a timeline in his head and theres no arguing with how fast hes progressed. He wants to have a strong season at Tennessee, get a promotion by years end, and maybe break camp with the Cubs next spring.
You just never know, McNutt said. Anything can happen.
PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.