TORONTO - A year ago today, Drew Hutchison was pitching for the Lansing Lugnuts at the lowest level of full-season Class A, minor league baseball.
For so many pro ball players, the clock on their apprenticeship winds with agonizing inertia. Then there comes along a kid like Hutchison who gets it, right from the start, and rockets through the minors.
Saturday night, with only six starts above class A on his resume, Hutchison will make his first major-league start for the Blue Jays against the Kansas City Royals.
“I was just excited,” said Hutchison Friday when asked about how he reacted when he learned of his promotion Thursday night.
“It still hasn’t really sunk in yet but I’m just thankful for the opportunity.”
While Hutchison’s rapid rise to the top of a pyramid that is often only climbed in tiny increments is unusual, few would question his readiness.
“He’s got a lot of things we like as a young pitcher and a young person: the maturity level, the ability to control his fastball,” said manager John Farrell. “Even though he’s got only six total starts above A ball, it speaks volumes to the fact that we’re confident enough to bring him to the major-league level with just a short Double A experience under his belt.
If we had any reservations, he wouldn’t be here. We’re looking forward to (Saturday) as the start of a long run for him.”
While so many high end prospects rely so heavily on their natural talent to lift them above the crowd, Hutchison has harnessed what many would consider modest tools to a baseball IQ that is off the charts. Even as a teenager, he dominated hitters not with his velocity or his “stuff.” He dominated with a cerebral approach that he’s continued to refine as a pro.
“I think I’ve worked real hard at knowing myself and knowing my game,” said Hutchison. “It’s something I’ve always tried to incorporate since I started pitching.
“I watched a lot of guys and the way they went about their business. The coaches I had growing up may have imparted that on me. It’s always been the way I’ve gone about things.”
Like Henderson Alvarez, another pitcher who came quickly through the system, you would never be able to discern whether he was 10 runs up or 10 runs down by his mound demeanour. That ability to eliminate emotional spikes is something that many more talented pitchers don’t discover until they are far more experienced.
“When I was in high school, the dad of a good friend of mine was the (Gulf Coast League) manager for the Tigers in Lakeland, so I was exposed to that atmosphere a lot,” said Hutchison. “I would go there and hit and it was an influence on me at a professional level.”
Hutchison doesn’t just throw strikes. He throws strikes that seldom stray into the white part of the plate. He lives at the bottom of the strike zone with all his pitches. He throws a sinking fastball that tops out in the low 90’s and a very good changeup that looks like a fastball until it’s too late for a hitter to adjust. There’s also a slider in the repertoire that the big-league staff hopes to “tighten up” over time.
“It’s always fun to see a new arm arrive,” said pitching coach Bruce Walton. “I got to see Hutch in spring training and work with him a little bit. You never know what it’s going to be like until you see him out there in a major-league game. That’s the fun of anticipation ... how he reacts to the hitters and how they react to him and how he reacts to the atmosphere.”
Saturday night, he’ll have his dad, Scott, a financial planner, his mom Kelly and his sister Katie, both teachers, in the crowd at Kaufmann Stadium. Despite his natural stoicism, Hutchison will be dealing with his own nerves.
“The mound is still 60 feet, six inches away,” said Farrell. “There’s a second deck here that might not be there in New Hampshire. Certainly the lineups are going to be more capable, but he’s got the pitches to attack both lefties and righties. He’s told us through his actions and the way he has handled himself that he’s ready for the major league challenge.
“The composure, the athleticism, the strike-throwing ability really starts to weigh out over the age and experience factors.”
For Hutchison, it will be a simple approach.
“I’m just going to go out there and try to compete, get as deep into the game as I can, just like any other game. Sure, it’s a little different but I think after the first pitch, it’ll be ‘Let’s get down to business.’ ”
Hutchison doesn’t know any other way.