Prospect Hutchison may make another big leap

Prospect Hutchison may make another big leap

Prospect Hutchison may make another big leap
TORONTO -- There were more than a handful of Blue Jays prospects who broke onto the scene in 2011, but arguably nobody took a bigger step forward than right-hander Drew Hutchison.

In one year, Hutchison went from low Class A ball to now being one of Toronto's top prospects and on the verge of making an impact at the big league level.

That's a very quick ascension through the ranks, but it also shows how much the command and quality of his pitches have improved in just 12 months.

"I thought he looked good in Spring Training, but what I saw during the season and his beginning of August -- he took a quantum leap," Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. "I expect that he's going to be a factor for us in 2012. He's going to come quick, but he's got great command and he has very good stuff as well, and composure."

Hutchison first entered the big league picture in Spring Training 2011, when he received a rare invitation to start a Grapefruit League game against the Phillies. Toronto was short on pitchers and extended the offer to Hutchison, who was taking part in the Minor League camp at the Bobby Mattick Training Center in Dunedin, Fla.

The 21-year-old Hutchison responded by allowing just two unearned runs in 4 2/3 frames. It was a moment that normally would bring out a lot of nerves for such an inexperienced hurler, but despite facing the likes of Shane Victorino, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins, he remained composed on the mound.

"I wasn't really nervous," Hutchison said. "I thought I would be. To be honest, I thought I would be. I was excited, but I was very calm. Especially after the first hitter, it was normal. It's baseball, just focusing on what you have to do and executing your pitches, and that was really what it was all about."

Hutchison was sent back to the Minor League camp following the impressive outing and began the year with low Class A Lansing, where he proceeded to go 6-2 with a 2.63 ERA. That prompted a promotion to Dunedin of the Florida State League, where he continued to shine with a 2.74 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 62 1/3 innings.

Anthopoulos was in attendance for what would turn out to be Hutchison's final start with Dunedin. Toronto's GM saw the promising righty's much talked about pinpoint command but it was the overall velocity that caught him off guard.

Hutchison previously would throw in the high 80s with an ability to gear up into the low 90s. By the time Anthopoulos made his trip south, Hutchison had increased that velocity to consistently throw in the low 90s with an ability to top out at 95.

"I saw more velocity from him late in the year," Anthopoulos said. "I saw a harder slider, that I hadn't seen -- slider was 83-86 mph, which had a lot more power to it. I didn't see the changeup, but there's been a lot of people that have seen the changeup. So I think Drew has really just continued to get better, and I think it's a credit to our player development staff.

"He was someone that our staff felt strongly about in Spring Training. Especially when you're that age, you can come quick. He really started to come on, and you look at how young he is and the fact he has such good command, [that] means he probably will continue to move fast."

Toronto likely will begin the year with Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Henderson Alvarez, Brett Cecil and Dustin McGowan in the rotation. Kyle Drabek and Aaron Laffey also will be given consideration while the Blue Jays take a cautious approach with their young pitchers.

That means Hutchison is slated to start the season with Double-A New Hampshire, where he'll lead a promising Fisher Cats rotation that also includes fellow prospects Deck McGuire and Chad Jenkins.

The trio is expected to push each other once the season begins, and if injuries present themselves in the Majors, it's very likely one will get the call to join the Blue Jays. Once there, Hutchison expects to heavily rely on what got him there, which almost always comes back to location.

"I work very hard on my command," Hutchison said. "Everything comes off of my fastball, both my two-seamer and my four-seamer. I would say it's kind of natural. I've always had pretty good control. I think it's just by working hard and keeping my command and always trying to improve it.

"Since I've pitched, I've always had pretty good command, and now it's about trying to get better. I play little games with myself in the bullpen, trying to not miss at all, hit this spot, hit that spot. I think that definitely helps."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.