McNutt among first cuts in Cubs camp


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.

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Joe Maddon's T-shirt slogans can get a little old at times, but the Cubs manager found a new audience in Brett Anderson, who liked the idea of "Be Uncomfortable" after signing a one-year, prove-it deal with the defending champs.

"It's been awesome so far," Anderson said. "That's my running joke – we're a month into it now or whatever it is – and I don't hate anybody yet.

"That's a testament to the group as a whole – and maybe me evolving as a person."

Yes, Anderson's sarcasm, social-media presence and groundball style fits in with a team built around short-term pitching and Gold Glove defense. The if-healthy lefty finished his Cactus League tour on Saturday afternoon by throwing four innings (one unearned run) during a 7-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies in front of 13,565 at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

Anderson will open the season as the No. 4 starter after a camp that has been remarkably low-key and drama-free.

"I'm kind of cynical by nature, but it's a fun group to be a part of," Anderson said, "(with) young guys that are exciting and happy to be here. And then obviously the mix of veterans, too, that are here with intentions of winning another World Series."

To make that happen, the pitching staff will have to again stay unbelievably healthy. Anderson rolled with a general question about how he physically feels now compared to where he's usually at by this time of year.

"Obviously better than last year, because I was walking with a gimp and all that stuff," said Anderson, who underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a bulging disk in his lower back last March. "No, my body feels good, my arm feels good and you're getting into the dog days of spring training where you're itching to get to the real thing."

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

MESA, Ariz. – Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella appears to be the final decision as the Cubs shape their Opening Night roster.

That's assuming good health – manager Joe Maddon sounded unconcerned about Ben Zobrist (stiff neck), Addison Russell (stiff back) and Albert Almora Jr. (stiff neck) – and the Cubs carrying an eight-man bullpen.

Maddon appeared to eliminate one variable, confirming that La Stella has signaled a willingness to go to Triple-A Iowa if necessary, which would normally be an obvious statement, except for last summer's "Where's Tommy?" episode.

"I haven't even thought about it," Maddon said during Saturday's media session at the Sloan Park complex. "It's not an issue. I thought we handled it pretty openly last year and there's been no blowback whatsoever from the players."

Beyond this – La Stella initially refused to report to the minors last July, moved back home to New Jersey and talked briefly about retirement – an American League scout and a National League scout tracking the Cubs in Arizona both agreed that Szczur looks like the superior player.

Plus Szczur – and not La Stella – is out of minor-league options now.

"When you get this kind of a talent, depth-wise, it's a wonderful problem to have," Maddon said. "And then, of course, the rules start creeping in. The rules in this situation would benefit Matt, which is a good thing, because he's a big-league guy that's been riding the shuttle. He's done it in a very stoic manner, and he's been great for us."

La Stella has allies in the clubhouse – Jake Arrieta got a Coastal Carolina tattoo on his right butt cheek after losing a College World Series bet – and goes about his routine in a quiet, diligent manner.

La Stella is not a distraction at all and can hit left-handed and play the infield – two attributes that Szczur can't bring to Maddon's bench.

"Matt Szczur, to me, is a Major League Baseball player," Maddon said. "You're seeing what Tommy can do from the left side of the plate right now. And then it's just a matter of balancing things out. We've already mentioned that some guys on the infield can play the outfield within this group, thus it presents differently regarding what you need."

[MORE CUBS: Javier Baez won’t change his style around Cubs after World Baseball Classic: ‘We’re not showing anybody up’]

Szczur is hitting .361 with a .994 OPS through 14 Cactus League games and can play all over the outfield. But that skill is diminished when the Cubs already have four established outfielders plus Zobrist and Kris Bryant able to shift from the infield.

Then again, defensive wizard Javier Baez should have the Cubs covered all across the infield in case of an emergency. With the defending World Series champs a week out from facing the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, we're about to find out if Maddon made his recommendation or had a possible trade scenario or disabled-list situation in mind.

"I love Matt Szczur," Maddon said. "This guy as a teammate – you're not going to get a better one. Nobody's going to get a better one on any team for any reason.

"We haven't decided everything or anything yet. Stuff happens in a very short period of time. He is a major-league baseball player. So we'll just wait a couple more days, see how it plays out. But he's a benefit to any group that has him."