Pitching prospects come in all shapes and sizes but the ones that generally get the talent evaluators all goo-goo-eyed are the 6-foot-6 kids with projectable bodies who can make the radar gun squeal like a pig at feeding time.
The Blue Jays have a few of those young arms, but the one who gets the rapt attention of the front office types in this camp is six-feet tall, about 180 with the kind of body that makes you want to say ‘second baseman’ at first glance.
At 21 and having barely gotten his feet wet at double A last year, his second season as a pro, Drew Hutchison has insinuated himself into Toronto’s pitching picture for this season.
It’s improbable that he would break camp with the big-league club, but with the inevitability of injury and poor performance within the five-man starting group, at least two, maybe more, additional arms will be needed to start games before the season is over.
There is no true “depth chart” for pitchers but it’s a safe guess that Hutchison would be no deeper than No. 7 or 8 on such a Toronto list. Maybe even higher.
“I expect he’s going to be a factor for us in 2012,” said GM Alex Anthopoulos this winter. “He’s going to come quick because he’s got great command, very good stuff and composure.
“I’m probably as excited (about Hutchison) as I am about any of the young arms that we have.”
A measure of just how highly thought of Huthison is, would be the fact that he has been handed the starting assignment for the team’s third Grapefruit League game in Lakeland Monday against the Tigers.
“The one thing that stands out is his maturity,” said manager John Farrell. “You watch his bullpens and there is intent and purpose with every pitch he throws.
“A lot of times you’ll see guys of that age and all they want is to hear the glove go pop.
“He’s about executing pitches and commanding the baseball. His slider is still a development pitch for him but when you look at the entire package, at that age and with only 15 innings at the double-A level, the maturity seems to be beyond his years.”
Another significant aspect of Monday’s start is that it is in his hometown of Lakeland, where he played for the local high school team just three years ago.
Hutchison was a 15th-round draft choice in 2009 and in his first professional season in 2010, made 15 starts, 10 at rookie ball in Auburn and five more at low-A Lansing. Last year he rocketed through two levels and into a third.
Last spring, at the age of 20 and still toiling at Toronto’s lowest full-season minor league rung, he was called up by the Jays for a spring training start against the Phillies when Brandon Morrow suffered an injury. Hutchison gave up two unearned runs in 42/3 innings of work against the Phils’ A-lineup.
He started the season at Lansing, then was bumped up to high-A Dunedin. In 62 innings over 11 games, Hutchison limited opponents to a .194 batting average, allowing 42 hits and just 14 walks, striking out 66.
One of those 11 appearances was against the Lakeland Tigers, where he will pitch Monday. Working in relief of a Dustin McGowan rehab start, Hutchison gave up seven runs in 41/3 innings, by far the worst outing of his career.
“That was not my best,” said Hutchison, with a rueful smile. “Hopefully it will be a little better this time.”
Hutchison’s final three starts of the regular season were at double-A New Hampshire. He went 3-0 and allowed 10 hits and two walks in 15 innings. In his one playoff start for the Fisher Cats, Hutchison allowed two hits, no walks and struck out six over six innings in what turned out to be a 1-0 New Hampshire victory. By that time, Hutchison had reached his team-imposed innings limit for the season and did not appear in any more games for New Hampshire on their run to the double-A championship.
Including that one playoff game, Hutchison went 14-5 on the season, allowing 122 hits and 35 walks with 177 strikeouts over 1551/3 innings.
Now, in his first big-league camp, he’s all ears and speaks when spoken to.
“I’m just enjoying it while I’m getting ready for the season,” he said. “I’m learning things watching the (major-leaguers) going about their business.”
Truth is, there are more than a few major-leaguers who could learn something watching this kid go about his business.
“I just try to stay focused and not to let things bother me,” he said. “If something bad happens, just move on to the next pitch and try to execute.
“I’ve always, at any level, been aware of hitting my spots, always trying to keep the ball down. No matter how old you are, that’s what you are trying to do as a pitcher. That’s something I take a lot of pride in.”
Hutchison’s rapid rise through the system has put him on the radar as one of baseball’s hot pitching prospects.
“You try not to think too much about that,” he said. “While it is nice that people say things about you, that’s all it is. I’m just a prospect and that doesn’t mean anything. I’d rather not be a prospect now and eventually make it to the major leagues than be a prospect now and not make it.
“(Recognition) is humbling but it’s not what I’m in this for.”
Maybe not, but he’d best get used to it. His future is coming and it might be coming fast.