From unheralded prospect to the majors, Scott Effross offers Cubs ‘unique look’ out of bullpen
MESA, Ariz. — There’s a saying in sports that the best ability is availability.
Well, Scott Effross has been more available than any other Cubs pitcher so far this spring.
Entering play Saturday, he leads the team with 5 Cactus League appearances.
It doesn’t hurt that he hasn’t permitted an earned run yet this spring.
Effross has allowed 2 hits and 2 walks against 5 strikeouts in 5 innings, continuing right where he left off at the end of last season.
2021 was an emotional year for Effross. The 28-year-old reliever made his MLB debut last August, more than six years after he was drafted in the 15th round out of Indiana University.
“I played baseball my entire life to get to that point and when it actually happens, you really don’t know how to react,” Effross said. “Pretty special to be able to call my wife and my parents right away.”
Effross wasn’t just up for a cup of coffee. As the Cubs were evaluating potential long-term pieces, he got the opportunity to showcase his ability down the stretch.
He went 2-1 with a 3.68 ERA and an 0.96 WHIP while striking out 18 batters against only 1 walk in 14.2 innings.
As the Cubs form their 2022 bullpen, Effross looks to be in a prime position to make his first Opening Day roster.
“It would be a dream come true,” Effross said. “There’s a lot of milestones in baseball. Last year — for obvious reasons — was a huge one, just getting up there. It’d be an extreme honor.”
Effross knows that decision is out of his control and he’s focused on the task at hand.
But he provides something that could be very valuable to the Cubs — a different look out of the bullpen.
Effross is a sidearming right-hander with a funky motion that can be deceptive and disrupt a hitter’s timing:
“I love having as many unique looks as possible [in the bullpen],” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. “It’s easy to chase stuff and spin rates and velocity and pitch data but it’s also dangerous to have the same types of pitchers in your ‘pen. Having guys with unique looks is really important.
“He’s definitely a guy that’s put himself in that position where you really like him in good matchups with a lot of righties but he’s also worked really hard to hone in on what he needs to do to get lefties out.”
Effross can pitch multiple innings if needed, which could work in the Cubs’ favor in the early going as pitchers are not stretched out following a shortened spring training.
He believes the success from late last year has carried over into this spring — his first in a big-league camp.
“That drove me this offseason — I had a little bit of success up here but it doesn’t really mean anything,” Effross said. “So what can I learn from what I did well and make that even better? And what can I learn from things that I struggled with last year to make those adjustments for this year and beyond?”
Effross is no stranger to making adjustments in his career.
He wasn’t always a sidearmer. His first few years in pro ball, his delivery and motion was rather normal.
But in the middle of 2019, the organization approached him about dropping down. At the time, he had a 5.88 ERA in Double-A but had just pitched well (5 shutout innings) in a spot start.
Still, he agreed to change his pitching style and spent the next two months in Arizona with the Cubs’ rehab pitching coordinator, Josh Zeid.
“At the time, I didn’t feel the most comfortable about it,” Effross said. “But after having it explained to me why we were doing this and how much time all the staff put into making me feel comfortable and letting me go at my own pace with it, I can’t thank the Cubs organization enough for giving me that second chance.
“It definitely could’ve been a scenario where with a struggling Double-A pitcher, they could’ve moved on in a lot of different ways. For whatever reason, I was lucky enough to get that second chance.”
After the work in Arizona, Effross debuted his new sidearming motion to good results in rookie ball and Advanced Class-A in late 2019. He also pitched well (1.80 ERA) in the Arizona Fall League, the game’s premiere showcase for young talent.
After 2019, he reached out to other sidearmers around the game — including former Cubs Steve Cishek and Joe Smith — to pick their brains and try to soak up as much as he could.
Effross also went outside the box and watched a lot of tape on hitters and golfers — how they shifted their weight through their hips and exploded toward the ball. He feels his style translates a bit more to hitting in that regard and picked up some tips on how to work down the mound toward home plate.
“I basically tried to take as much information as I could about using my body differently because I kinda became a different pitcher,” Effross said. “I couldn’t go back to what I was doing previously.”
It was a bit of a bumpy road from there, as the pandemic impacted baseball in a major way. Effross wasn’t able to pitch in any live games, so he stayed fresh and honed his craft at home in Pittsburgh facing live hitters twice a week.
He actually felt like that was perfect timing, in a way. Instead of worrying about the competitive aspect, he was able to spend the entire year focusing solely on his mechanics.
Last season, Effross began in Double-A but the organization quickly promoted him after only 8 games. He found more success in his first stint in Triple-A Iowa and continued his momentum through the 14-game audition in the majors.
“It’s been a long experience in my mind because I feel like a lot’s gone into it,” Effross said. “It’s been a fairly short amount of time since I actually transitioned. It still feels like there’s a ton to learn.”
Effross paused for a second, smiled and then reiterated his sentiment about the Cubs:
“I can’t express my gratitude enough for being given this second opportunity by the organization.”