If you let the stat line tell you how righty reliever Scott Effross pitched in 2019, you’re going to come away with a decidedly different story from the one that actually unfolded over the course of the summer. Always someone who’s taken a while to find his groove each season, Effross was right on trend through 17 appearances at Double-A Tennessee. His 5.88 ERA was the product of a .291 batting average against and a 1.43 WHIP that said he just wasn’t putting hitters away.
A look at the game log will show you that his final appearance with the Smokies on June 9 was his only start of the season, after which he was placed on the injured list. Then he was out until July 28, when he made the first of three rehab outings in the Arizona Rookie League before finishing out August with a 1.84 ERA and 13 strikeouts with just one walk over eight appearances for Myrtle Beach.
Without knowing better, you’d probably assume Effross just wasn’t stretched out and overexerted himself during that start, maybe suffered one of those ubiquitous oblique strains. Except that wasn’t the case at all because he was perfectly healthy. So why was he out for so long?
That’s exactly what I wanted to find out when I caught up with him fresh off of a four-strikeout performance in the Arizona Fall League. Effross got the belated call to join several other Cubs prospects on the AFL’s Mesa Solar Sox because others — like Nico Hoerner, who was promoted to Chicago — were unable, but he said he had a feeling he’d be heading West and had been working out to stay ready.
Now, about that IL stint…
“I was actually still healthy, but the reason I was on the shelf for a little bit was the organization approached me right before the All-Star break and they actually asked me if I wanted to change my mechanics a little bit to try to throw more sidearm,” Effross explained. “So that was the reason I was down here in Arizona for the next couple of months.”
You don’t normally hold up a 15th round draft pick as an example of a shifting organizational philosophy, but asking Effross to overhaul his mechanics is a pretty aggressive move. The Cubs have long struggled to develop pitchers and they’ve had little success with picks outside the top two rounds, so this is a legitimate sign that they’ve shifted away from their overly safe strategies of the past.
“I got the call and it was it was our last home series in Tennessee…and they called me and approached me about this and explained the reason why,” Effross said. “Obviously it was a little — not disconcerting — but it was a little hard to hear [and] kinda scary to think about learning something new from what I’d been doing for my entire life.
“But after they explained it to me and told me why they personally wanted me to do this and thought that I’d be able to do it, I was all aboard. And honestly, when I was down here it completely changed my mindset about the game. Being away from it just for a little bit completely changed everything I think about. I’ve been able to just focus on the mechanics because I’ve had to with this new this motion, and basically I’ve just kind of had to re-learn everything about pitching.”
Just to make sure we’re all on the same page here, this guy reworked the way he threw the ball in the middle of the season and was still able to make it back into live competition with solid results. That’s no mean feat, folks, and it speaks to both the player’s desire to improve and the organization’s desire to support him in that improvement.
Effross credited rehab pitching coordinator Josh Zeid and rehab coach Tyler Pearson, a former Cubs catching prospect who retired following the 2018 season, with helping him through the mechanical metamorphosis. After about a month and a half of working on the new delivery and getting into some AZL games, the Cubs were confident enough to get Effross back into a more competitive atmosphere.
Even over a small sample at High-A, the results were evident. That low three-quarters delivery has made the righty more deceptive and has allowed him to be more effective against batters on both sides of the plate. It also seems to be helping with the bite on his slider, which has been something of a mystery pitch for him in the past.
Since coming back from his working vacation in Mesa, Effross has struck out 24 batters against just two walks and has allowed just five earned runs over 25.1 innings (1.78 ERA). That success is a combination of several things, not just the new delivery. Watching video of Steve Cishek gave him an idea for what that low arm slot should look like while playing catch with southpaw teammate Jordan Minch has helped him to dial in his breaking ball.
Perhaps most important of all is developing a better feel for sequencing, knowing which pitches to pair and in which locations to produce the best tunneling effect. Effross has learned a lot from 20-year-old catching phenom Miguel Amaya, who caught him at Myrtle Beach and is now paired with him in Mesa as well.
“He’s been so solid for me behind the plate,” Effross gushed. “I think I could talk about him for a while but he is so advanced for his age. He’s just such a good catcher and he takes it so seriously back there. He’s been great for me.
“I ask him all the time, ‘Hey, Miggy, you see anything like I’m pulling off or whatever?’ And he’ll let me know and it’s impressive that he can do that, not only having English as a second language but being 20 years old.”
So much of the hype around Amaya, particularly when you’re viewing his talent more indirectly, is that he’s handy with the bat. And even if you’re aware of his prowess behind the plate, what Effross is talking about is an incredibly advanced sense of the game. Remember, Amaya is directing the approach of a guy who’s barely three months into a whole new delivery.
“It’s unbelievable, he catches like he’s been catching for 10 years in professional baseball,” Effross marveled. “He’s so confident back there, and he honestly thinks a little bit better than I do about all this because he pays attention.
“With the new mechanics, new pitches, I don’t know exactly what I’m doing. I’m kind of just going out there and throwing and working on stuff, but he’s — in Myrtle Beach specifically — he would always set up hitters so well.”
The humility isn’t forced, that’s just who Effross is. And that’s probably why the Cubs approached him the way they did, since not every pitcher would be willing or able to set his ego and apprehension aside in order to really embrace change.
“Flying to Arizona to learn new mechanics doesn’t sound like the most sure bet, I guess,” Effross admitted. “But the Cubs have been so unbelievably supportive with this, just to have the faith in me to kind of let me do this and to invest their time in it with all the coaches. It’s been unbelievable and I can’t thank them enough. I’m super honored to be here representing them.
“I’m really looking to this offseason to not only continue what I’ve done so far these last couple of months but build on stuff. I’ve been taking a ton of notes and thinking about the whole season since I haven’t really got a chance to do that during the game. So I’m really looking forward to coming back strong next season and continuing to compete and hopefully learn a lot of new things along the way and still have fun with it.”
He may not have the imposing frame of Dakota Mekkes or the blazing fastball of Brailyn Marquez, but a new delivery and greater awareness of how to use it could make Scott Effross a dude. Getting comfortable as a sidewinder could really improve his outlook by evening out the reverse splits he’d previously pitched to. What’s more, making a successful transition to a new delivery could encourage the Cubs to be similarly aggressive with other prospects whose progress they feel has plateaued.
They really couldn’t have found a more ideal test case, for lack of a better word, as the humble Effross has taken to the change and is genuinely excited for what it’ll yield in the future. So don’t be surprised if he continues to shove after being pushed.