In September, the Boston Red Sox’ lack of pitching prospects at the upper levels was badly exposed, as “prospects” including Michael Bowden, Felix Doubront and Kyle Weiland failed to capitalize on solid minor league numbers. Cue the Red Sox’ interest in Cubs right-handed pitching prospect Trey McNutt as compensation in the Theo Epstein debacle.
McNutt took the hill for Tennessee, the Cubs double-A affiliate in Chattanooga and I just could not miss the opportunity to scout him squaring off against Dodgers pitching prospect Allen Webster. And while McNutt proved to be a quality pitching prospect, the potential he apparently had as a top-50 overall prospect in baseball failed to register. Would I want McNutt in my organization? Absolutely! Is he the type of prospect who profiles as the centerpiece of a deal or impact talent in a big league rotation? Not for me.
Video after the jump
In game action, McNutt projected an intimidating presence on the mound. At a listed 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, his grizzly beard, thick frame and angry scowl certainly looked the part of power pitcher. So much so that it actually hurt McNutt’s value as a prospect for me leaving an impression his mentality may be better suited for short spurts out of a big league bullpen.
This initial first impression was supported by the fact McNutt has a significant amount of effort in his throwing motion which left my partially torn ulnar ligament from college screaming mercy. By no means do I claim to be a mechanics guru, but McNutt landing on a rather stiff front leg forced his arm to supply much of his velocity. In the short term, this may not be much of an issue. However, it does make it difficult to project the 200+ inning per year workhorse McNutt’s physical stature would indicate over any lengthy period of time.
In terms of stuff, McNutt’s fastball was at its best at 92-94 MPH. At the lower registers, the pitch featured late run and a bit of drop — especially when down in the strike zone. During the innings myself and “buddy in baseball” Chris Blessing spent charting, McNutt hit 95 MPH more than a handful of times and even touched 96 on a rare occasion. Unfortunately, increased velocity led to his elevating the fastball, leading to a handful of hard hit balls including a mammoth home run off of a 96 MPH fastball to lead off the game by Dodgers prospect and Future’s Game participant Alfredo Silverio. Throughout the game, he simply threw too many letter-high fastballs middle-in for me to view McNutt’s fastball as anything more than average at this point. Double-A hitters may not have the skill to punish McNutt for mistakes, but big leaguers certainly will.
For lack of a better term, I’ll hang “slurve” on McNutt’s primary breaking ball as it features more velocity than a typical curveball would, but features more downward action than a typical slider. At 83-85 MPH, McNutt did not throw the pitch as often as his changeup, but it flashed as a quality offering at times with tight, 11/3 break. At present, the pitch does not have enough late bite to miss many bats, which is likely responsible for his lack of strikeouts. Additionally, McNutt had a tendency to wrap his wrist behind his ear, snapping the pitch awfully hard at times. It’s something he will need to smooth out.
McNutt utilized an 83-86 MPH changeup more than I was initially expecting. While his velocity separation from the fastball was fine, McNutt had a tendency to stay far too tall in his follow through, altering his mechanics significantly. And with his staying taller through the pitch, command of the offering was limited as McNutt left the changeup in the zone too often.
Having just turned 22, McNutt still has time on his side after an injury-plagued season fighting through blister problems and inconsistency. And while concern over McNutt’s combined numbers at the upper levels are somewhat warranted, it’s important to understand the role of age-versus-level in his development and that arms capable of touching 96 MPH are difficult to find — even if most big league staffs have a number of pitchers capable of registering upper-90s velocity.
Should McNutt find consistency in his mechanics to take pressure off of his arm, a future as a middle-of-the-rotation workhorse is possible. However, I’m left no choice but to view him as a 7th-8th inning reliever at this point based on so much effort in his delivery. In terms of prospect status, I’d be comfortable grouping McNutt with pitchers like Nathan Eovaldi and Wily Peralta in terms of stuff, but their top-end velocity does come a bit easier, allowing them to profile as starters long term.
For the Boston Red Sox, the addition of McNutt would instantly make him the highest ceiling pitching prospect in the upper levels of their minor league system until the 2012 season opens and Anthony Ranaudo takes the hill. Of course the organization is thin up top in terms of pitching, so that’s not exactly a bold statement. However, from a trade standpoint, the swap of Epstein for McNutt is not quite as one sided as it may seem considering the acquisition of McNutt does fill a serious organizational need for the Red Sox.