Prospect Smackdown: Chris Archer vs. Trey McNutt
A reader suggested that we do a Prospect Smackdown for Chris Archer and Trey McNutt, two right-handers who emerged as top prospects in the Chicago Cubs farm system in 2010. McNutt remains with Chicago, while Archer was traded to Tampa Bay as a key component of the Matt Garza deal. Let's compare.
Background and Intangibles
Archer: Chris Archer was drafted in the fifth round by the Cleveland Indians in 2006, out of high school in Clayton, North Carolina. He was considered somewhat raw but very projectable, and the Indians were able to sign him away from a University of Miami scholarship for $161,000. Although he struggled in the low minors, he remained on the radar due to his live arm and was included in the Mark DeRosa trade to the Cubs in December '08. The change of organizations sat well with Archer, who took a step forward in '09 then a huge leap in '10, emerging as one of the best RHP prospects in the game. He pitched tentatively early in his career but has shown much more confidence and mound presence the last two years.
McNutt: Trey McNutt was drafted in the 32nd round in 2009 by the Cubs, from Shelton State Community College in Alabama. He didn't throw that hard during the regular JC season, but the Cubs saw him throw in the low 90s in the post-season and in the mid-90s in summer ball, convincing them to spend $115,000 to sign him. This looks like it could be a bargain, since McNutt has done nothing but dominate professional hitters. He adapted quickly to pro ball and has good mound presence.
Advantage: Archer had a higher profile as an amateur, but McNutt adjusted more quickly to pro ball. They took different paths but have ended up in about the same place, showing the necessary "intangibles" for success along with the ability to adapt and improve.
Physicality, Health, and Tools
Archer: Archer is a 6-3, 180 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born September 26, 1988. He's had no serious health problems. His fastball velocity has increased over the last three years; he tops out at 97 MPH and works consistently at 92-94.The heater has movement as well as velocity. His breaking ball was more curve-like earlier in his career, but is now a firm slider, a very effective pitch rated as plus by scouts. His changeup is average but has improved a great deal over the last two years. He is a good athlete and has a smooth delivery, two factors which should help him stay healthy. His biggest weakness right now is control, which still wobbles on him at times.
McNutt: McNutt is a 6-4, 205 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born August 2nd, 1989. He has had no serious health problems. His fastball has picked up considerable steam since he was a junior college freshman, now topping off at 97-98 MPH with consistent 92-94 velocity. Movement on the pitch is average but he locates it with precision. His curveball is a plus pitch, but his changeup is just average at this point and needs to be improved as he advances. His command and control are excellent, and like Archer he is a good athlete.
Advantage: Very close. Both are healthy and athletic. Both throw hard, McNutt with a bit more peak velocity, but Archer with more movement. Both have plus breaking balls but need to improve their changeups. McNutt has better command, but Archer gets more grounders. I call it even.
Archer: Archer began '10 with Daytona in the Florida State League, posting a 2.86 ERA with an 82/26 K/BB in 72 innings with just 54 hits allowed. Promoted to Double-A at mid-season, he was even more effective at Tennessee, now allowing an earned run in his first 31 innings and finishing with a 1.80 mark over 70 frames, with a 67/39 K/BB and 48 hits allowed. His composite numbers: 15-3, 2.34, 149/64 K/BB in 142 innings, 102 hits. His K/IP and (especially) his H/IP were terrific and point to the quality of his stuff, but his walk rate is still rather high and is the main thing he needs to improve going forward.
McNutt: McNutt began 2010 with Peoria in the Midwest League, going 6-0, 1.51 with a 70/24 K/BB in 60 innings, 43 hits allowed. Promoted to Daytona, he went 4-0, 2.63 in nine starts with a 49/9 K/BB in 41 innings, then finished the season with three starts in Double-A. His composite line: 10-1, 2.48, with a 132/37 K/BB in 116 innings, 93 hits allowed. His K/IP, K/BB, and H/IP ratios were all excellent. His three Double-A starts resulted in a 5.74 ERA in 15.2 innings, but he still threw strikes with a 13/4 K/BB and pitched well in two of the three outings.
Advantage: It would be nice if they had spent an equal amount of time in Double-A to make a direct comparison easier,, but we have to work with what we have. Both pitchers were strong in the K/IP and H/IP categories, but McNutt showed superior command with a better K/BB, including the High-A level where they both spent time. He gets a slight edge here.
Archer: Assuming that his changeup and command continue to improve, Archer profiles as a number two starter. He could also be an excellent closer with the fastball/slider combination, but it makes sense to let him start as long as possible.
McNutt: Assuming his changeup improves and he maintains his current command, McNutt profiles as a number two starter. There has been talk of him becoming a closer if the changeup remains an issue, but it makes sense for him to start as long as possible.
Advantage: Both profile as number two starters though with slightly different styles, Archer with a bit more power and McNutt with a bit more precision.
Very close, as a good smackdown always is. I rate them as even on background/intangibles, even on physicality and health, even on projection, with McNutt a slight edge on current performance. I had them very close in the Top 50 Pitching Prospect list in the 2011 Baseball Prospect Book, McNutt checking in at 20 and Archer at 22.