Cubs Trying To Look Forward With McNutt, Simpson





CHICAGO—Trey McNutt takes one step forward, another back, while it has been pretty much all downhill this season for Hayden Simpson.

Righthanders McNutt and 2010 first-rounder Simpson were two of the Cubs' most highly regarded pitching prospects last winter. They epitomize the problems that have frustrated the organization in 2011. With a lack of pitching depth an issue in the big leagues since April, the farm system has tilted heavily toward position players, not pitchers.

McNutt, a 32nd-round pick in 2009 from Shelton State (Ala.) CC, dominated two Class A leagues in his first full pro season, seemingly putting himself on a fast track to Wrigley Field. But he's been cursed by a series of freak injuries (blisters on two fingers, bruised ribs in an infield collision) and rain-shortened outings this time around, working just 66 innings in 18 starts for Double-A Tennessee with a 2-4, 4.77 record to show for it.

Farm director Oneri Fleita said he hopes that McNutt, 22, will be able to pitch in the Arizona Fall League, getting beyond 100 innings, if not to the 150-160 planned at the start of the season.

Simpson, who signed for $1.06 million after being taken with the 16th overall pick in last year's draft, has had a lost season after reporting to Arizona weighing about 150 pounds after an offseason bout with mononucleosis.

He was undersized before getting ill—listed at 6 feet, 175 pounds—and the Cubs are taking a patient approach in trying to let him regain his strength. The 21-year-old had 74 innings between low Class A Peoria and the Rookie-level Arizona League, going 1-8, 6.08.

"He's learned a lot about himself," Fleita said. "We've let him build his strength up slowly. He's had a lot going on, including that he's a first-round pick, and trying to live up to it."

Simpson, 21, is expected to spend most of the offseason at the Cubs' Arizona facility, working on a strength and conditioning program.

Cubbyhole

• Kyler Burke was off to a good start in making the transition to pitching. He had a 3.00 ERA in 11 relief appearances with short-season Boise. He was the Cubs' Minor League player of the year as an outfielder at Boise in 2009.

• Rotating shortstops Gioskar Amaya and Marco Hernandez were opening eyes in the AZL, batting .366 and .354, respectively. Amaya, 18, was signed from Venezuela; Hernandez, 18, from the Dominican Republic.