How Cubs prospect McNutt got on the fast track

How Cubs prospect McNutt got on the fast track

Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011
8:32 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

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.

Cubs hopeful Kyle Hendricks returns before All-Star break

Cubs hopeful Kyle Hendricks returns before All-Star break

MIAMI – The Cubs are hopeful Kyle Hendricks could return before the All-Star break and stabilize a rotation that misses his overall consistency and the unique stuff that made him a National League Cy Young Award finalist last season.

A healthy Hendricks is critical to any second-half surge the Cubs are hoping for now, and so much of his game revolves around feel and the ability to manipulate a baseball in different ways. The tendinitis in his right hand has subsided to the point where he can soon reboot his throwing program.

“He’s feeling good,” manager Joe Maddon said before Friday night’s game at Marlins Park. “He’s going to throw any moment now, tomorrow or the next day possibly. (Athletic trainer) PJ (Mainville) was very optimistic, and so was Kyle.”

The Cubs placed Hendricks on the disabled list retroactive to June 5 and needed at least two MRIs to get a better sense of the inflammation in a tendon on the back of his middle finger.

The year after leading the majors in ERA, Hendricks is 4-3 with a 4.09 ERA and getting an unplanned break after making seven playoff starts in 2015 and 2016 combined. The Cubs aren’t thinking conservatively and waiting until after the All-Star break.

“If he’s ready to go, go ahead,” Maddon said. “This is one of those things in the finger (where) you got to throw the ball and just feel a baseball. If he’s doing that, there’s no reason to hold him back.

“Whatever that pinching feeling was…as long as he’s good to go, I think it’s wise to just let him go and play.”

Jake Arrieta getting close and message to Cubs is clear: ‘We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut’

Jake Arrieta getting close and message to Cubs is clear: ‘We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut’

MIAMI – Kyle Schwarber’s offensive spiral had gone on for so long and gotten so deep that the shock value of sending a potential franchise player to Triple-A quickly wore off once the news broke on Twitter.

The Cubs sent their message directly to Schwarber. Even if the bosses wanted to, the Cubs couldn’t put the rest of the clubhouse on edge by demoting a .171 hitter with 260-plus plate appearances in late June. 

The Cubs are in survival mode, not a position to play mind tricks, beginning an 11-games-in-11-days road trip with World Series MVP Ben Zobrist (sore left wrist), Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward (cut left hand) and Cy Young Award finalist Kyle Hendricks (right hand tendinitis) all on the disabled list.   

The Cubs didn’t rebook Schwarber to Iowa so he can be converted into a pitcher. An aging, stressed rotation remains a much bigger concern than the boom-and-bust periods with a young offense. 

All these circumstances made a vintage Jake Arrieta performance during Thursday night’s 11-1 win at Marlins Park so important. Whether or not the Cubs make a blockbuster trade for a pitcher, there are still five-plus weeks left until buyers and sellers will feel the urgency of a deadline.   

“If something presents itself that makes sense, we’ll certainly jump on it,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “But to us, the answers are in that clubhouse. We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut. The answers are in there, and we believe in those guys. 

“Will we be active? No question. But that’s not going to happen for a while and there’s a lot of games to be played between now and July 31.”

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]  

On a night where he felt “low energy,” rocked a new buzz cut and covered his right thumb with Dermabond to treat a cut/blister issue that can be traced back to spring training, Arrieta needed only 82 pitches to get through seven innings, completely shutting down a strong Miami lineup except for a Marcell Ozuna home run.

Arrieta’s inconsistencies (7-5, 4.36 ERA) have mirrored a 37-35 team, but he didn’t hesitate when asked where he is at now in a season that has so far not lived up to his Cy Young/All-Star expectations.  

“I’m close,” Arrieta said. “I’m really close.”

The Cubs are still the defending champs. Kris Bryant unleashed an MVP swing when he launched a three-run homer into the left-center field patio deck. Blocking out a messy personal situation, All-Star shortstop Addison Russell almost hit for the cycle (no triple) the day after getting questions about his divorce and a Major League Baseball investigation. This year’s Schwarber – rookie Ian Happ – also went 4-for-5 and gave the team another jolt.  

“It’s tough to see Schwarber go down,” Arrieta said. “We know that he’s going to be one of our mainstays in the lineup eventually. He’s hit a rough patch and it happens to the best of us. 

“I’ve been there. I talked to him yesterday a little bit about just keeping his head down and going to work and getting his at-bats and trying to find that comfort level. He’ll be back soon. He’s a tremendous hitter who’s going through some struggles and he’s going to right the ship. There’s no doubt about that. He’s too good of a hitter.

“A night like tonight where we pitch well and we score 11 runs, it looks easy. But it’s about consistency and trying to build off of a night like tonight. We’ve got the guys necessary to do so. We’re very capable of doing that.”

Especially if Arrieta gets hot again and shows how he can lift an entire team. 

“To get Jake pitching that kind of quality game again is going to be a big boon to us,” manager Joe Maddon said.