By Brian Hanley-
(CBS) Don’t blink now, Tom Ricketts!
Don’t give in to public pressure and send perhaps the Cubs’ best pitching prospect to the Red Sox to seal the Theo Epstein deal.
Multiple reports out of Boston have the Red Sox targeting pitcher Trey McNutt as the must-have in the compensation package the Cubs send the BoSox’ way for Epstein.
Most Cubs fan would say, “Done!”
Those same fans may be saying, “What the $%@*?” if McNutt turns out to be as good a Major Leaguer as some seem to think.
Count his college coach, Bobby Sprowl among the believers.
McNutt posted a 7-2 record with a 3.38 ERA, 75 strikeouts and 31 walks in 61 1/3 innings as a freshman at Shelton State in 2009.
Sprowl, who visited with Mully and me on our show Tuesday, will talk all day about the 6-foot-4-inch kid’s mid-90s fastball and “knee-buckling” breaking ball. Add a quality change-up and Sprowl sees McNutt as a front-of-the-rotation starter or a closer.
Not a bad investment for the $115,000 the Cubs gave McNutt as a 32nd-round draft pick.
“Trey had everything you’d look for in a pitcher,” Sprowl said by phone on Monday. “If you ever saw him throw, and I didn’t get much time in the big leagues but the time that I got in it, there were times that you would say, ‘Hey, he could get big league hitters out because he has that power breaking ball.
“His stuff was just way ahead of everybody else’s,” he added. “We’ve had maybe a guy or two that might be a little more polished along the lines of command, but not the stuff he had. … That guy was popping mid-90s most of the year.
“He was dominant,” Sprowl continued. “Every now and then he’d have a spurt where he’d drop down [in velocity], but he was dominant. His command was a little off at times but he knew how to pitch. He wasn’t afraid to go inside, go inside with something on it. Days he could maintain the command of his breaking ball for a while, it was total domination.”
Still, even though a handful of teams had been scouting McNutt (including the Red Sox), his six-figure asking price seemingly proved a deterrent in the draft. So, too, did the fact that he was an unknown coming out of high school — someone who did not take part in the showcase circuit.
That, in turn, meant that scouts who might have seen him early in the year — when his velocity was still building — didn’t identify him as a legitimate prospect to follow through the season, or as someone worth the six-figure bonus he sought.
“The one thing that hurt Trey a little bit was scouting nowadays has become a lot of showcases and summer ball and that type of stuff, and he never did any of that,” said Sprowl. “So where a lot of people would get looks in, he’s from a small town in Alabama, a real small country town, where he just didn’t do much of that.
“So a lot of [teams] didn’t get looks at him. And the ones that did early in the spring when it was cold out, he wasn’t quite in shape, and he wasn’t there. But once he got going, he was sitting there about 90-95, any day you get in that area with a power breaking ball.”
While Sprowl had been given the sense that his pitcher might go in the ninth to 11th rounds, the right-hander remained on the board far beyond that. Indeed, it was not until the 32nd round that McNutt was taken by the Cubs. He ended up signing for $115,000.
McNutt dominated in his first summer of pro ball, recording a 0.98 ERA and striking out more than a batter an inning at two short-season levels. Then, in his first full pro year, he had a huge year, going 10-1 with a 2.48 ERA, striking out 132 and walking 37 in 116 1/3 innings between the Single-A Midwest League, the High-A Florida State League and, finally, with a few starts in the Double-A Southern League.
McNutt’s stats suffered at Tennessee last season (5-6 with a 4.55 ERA, along with 6.2 strikeouts and 3.7 walks per nine innings) due to a blister and other injury issues.
Sprowl said McNutt’s tough mentality and his hard-work ethic makes him a pitcher the Cubs can envision at Wrigley in a few years.
So Tom, call the Boston bluff. Tell the Red Sox McNutt is on the same can’t-have list as Starlin Castro, Andrew Cashner, and Brett Jackson. Tell the Red Sox they can go ahead and pay Theo some $6 million-plus (Epstein’s 2012 salary and bonus due next year) not to work. There’s no way Epstein goes back to Fenway only to find his former assistant Ben Cherington sitting in his his old chair.
If Boston’s brain trust is willing to pull the plug on the Theo deal, then Tom, you will know the true value of McNutt and quickly get Andrew Friedman on speed dial.